update A day after developers at America Online's Nullsoft unit quietly released file-sharing software, AOL pulled the link to the product from the subsidiary's Web site.
The software, called Waste, lets groups set up private, secure file-sharing networks. The product became available on Nullsoft's Web site on Wednesday, just days shy of the four-year anniversary of being acquired by AOL. Waste is a software application that combines peer-to-peer file sharing with instant messaging, chat and file searches. Users can set up their own network of friends and share files between each other.
The features of Waste are similar to those of file-swapping services such as Kazaa and the defunct Napster, but the difference is that only small networks of people (up to 50, according to the Web site) can use it. The software also offers encryption and authentication to prevent non-invitees from accessing the private networks.
The quiet launch of Waste was the work of Nullsoft's principal developer, Justin Frankel, a soft-spoken 20-something known for his tech savvy and his streak of rebelliousness.
Waste had been used internally to share files between AOL's San Francisco office, where Nullsoft is based, and its Dulles, Va., headquarters, according to Ian Rogers, a former founding member of Nullsoft.
"The real play is when you've got small networks of co-workers or friends who can share whatever they want securely," Rogers said in an interview. "It could be a group of government officials sharing secure documents or it could be Justin sharing video files with AOL Dulles."
An AOL representative did not return requests for comment.
Nullsoft has had its conflicts with AOL in the past, such as in 2000 when Frankel developed a music file-swapping technology called Gnutella. AOL quickly pulled it off the Web fearing legal ramifications, but not before developers downloaded it and began creating services based on its software code.
AOL also forced Nullsoft to shut down an MP3 search engine, fearing the legal consequences of the software. Then, Frankel and his cohorts caused a stir when they developed software called AIMazing, which replaced banner advertisements on AOL Instant Messenger into wiggling sound waves accompanied by music.
That's not to say all of Nullsoft's products have been a thorn in AOL's side. AOL acquired Nullsoft in 1999 for its Winamp MP3 player and now uses the technology in its flagship online service. AOL also has been revamping its streaming-media delivery system by using another Nullsoft creation called Ultravox, which AOL claims can stream media more efficiently than other products on the market. AOL uses Ultravox to stream songs on its narrowband and broadband radio services.