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Obituaries

Gene Kan, 25; Software Pioneer

July 10, 2002|From Associated Press

Gene Kan, one of the pioneers of the file-sharing technology called Gnutella, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, a coroner's spokeswoman said Tuesday. He was 25.

Kan's body was found July 2 at his home in Belmont, between San Francisco and San Jose, according to Sue Turner of the San Mateo County medical examiner's office.

She said that Kan's death likely will be ruled a suicide, but that an investigation is continuing.

A statement released Monday by his employer, Sun Microsystems Inc., said that Kan died as the result of an accident and that no further details of his death were being released at the request of his family.

Kan was among the first to develop an open-source version of the Gnutella protocol--a small bit of computer code used by a distributed network of PCs for massive file-sharing duties.

Gnutella, which took music swapping beyond the realm of Napster, came along as Shawn Fanning's Napster program became mired in lawsuits by the recording industry.

Kan and a small clutch of developers honed the Gnutella protocol so that programmers around the world could make their own home-brewed computer applications--each speaking the same language and capable of pointing users to shared music, video and software files.

The main difference between the Gnutella network and other file-sharing programs was a crucial one. Gnutella has no company to sue or central servers to shut down with a court injunction.

"There is no head to the Gnutella dragon," Kan told the Associated Press in 2000. After that interview, Kan quickly became the ad hoc spokesman for Gnutella's development during file-swapping debates surrounding Napster.

Kan lived in a Belmont home with other software developers during Gnutella's early days.

Their living room was strewn with desktop and laptop computers networked with high-speed cables as they tested early incarnations of Gnutella.

The group didn't invent Gnutella from scratch.

Kan and his colleagues merely brought it into focus after an early version of a program appeared briefly on the Web site of Nullsoft, a subsidiary of America Online.

The Gnutella code was available only briefly, but that was long enough for Kan and other developers to download it. Kan acknowledged that some unauthorized files were being traded through the Gnutella network.

"How users make use of it, I hate to say it's not our problem, but it really isn't," Kan said.

The simple Gnutella protocol spawned a legion of file-sharing programs that remain popular today. The programs LimeWire, BearShare and Phex all make use of the Gnutella engine.

"Gene was really good at communicating the technical merits of the peer-to-peer approach," said author and entrepreneur Cory Doctorow, who took part in many panel discussions with Kan.

Sun spokeswoman Carrie Motamedi said Kan had been working on advanced computing projects for Sun.

"Gene contributed much to the industry, specifically in the peer-to-peer space," Sun said in its statement. "Gene brought new ideas to the organization and stretched our thinking."

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