Nullsoft founder says he's had it with AOL

Winamp and Gnutella author Justin Frankel says corporate control is killing his freedom of expression, after AOL Time Warner pulls his latest program from the Web.

Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jim Hu
covers home broadband services and the Net's portal giants.
Jim Hu
2 min read
Gnutella author Justin Frankel is considering quitting Nullsoft, the company he founded and sold to America Online, following repeated clashes with his corporate parent over software projects.

Frankel's comments come less than a week after AOL pulled a program he authored called Waste that enables small groups of people to create secure networks for sharing computer files.

Calling coding "a form of self-expression," Frankel said he could no longer put up with AOL's interference. "The company controls the most effective means of self-expression I have," he wrote in a note posted on his personal Web site. "This is unacceptable to me as an individual, therefore I must leav (sic).

"I don't know when it will be, but I'm not going to last much longer. I have nothing but respect for the company--I've just come to realize that it is time to do something different."

An AOL representative declined to comment on the matter. However, a source close to Nullsoft said the posting was authentic.

Nullsoft employs an iconoclastic group of programmers with a talent for producing high-profile applications and without regard for the commercial impact of their work. Key products developed by Frankel's group include the Winamp MP3 player, ShoutCast personal Webcasting software, and the Gnutella peer-to-peer file-swapping software.

Winamp was Frankel's first creation and drew so many users that AOL acquired his company in 1999. AOL has since integrated Winamp technology into its own proprietary online service and has used its Nullsoft division as a test lab for more cutting-edge software products.

This is not the first time that AOL Time Warner corporate managers have acted to censor Frankel's work.

In 2000, Frankel gained notoriety when he released Gnutella, which later became the core for a number of illicit file-swapping services such as LimeWire that rose up after Napster's demise. The software sparked an immediate outcry from AOL executives worried about causing a stir with its AOL Time Warner cousin Warner Music Group. Gnutella was soon pulled, but not until its code spread around the developer community.

Frankel's possible resignation puts a cloud over future versions of Winamp, which recently emerged from a major overhaul but has been sent back to the drawing board after complaints over the upgrade.