Gene Kan, one of the key programmers behind the popular file-sharing technology known as Gnutella, has died in an apparent suicide, officials said Tuesday. He was 25.
San Mateo County Coroner spokeswoman Sue Turner said Kan was found last week at his northern California home.
"The cause of death was a perforating gunshot wound to the head," Tuner said. "It was a suicide."
A spokeswoman for Kan said he died on June 29 and was cremated on July 5.
A statement released Monday by his most recent employer, Sun Microsystems Inc., said Kan died as the result of an accident and that at the request of his family, no further details of his death are being released.
Sun spokeswoman Carrie Motamedi said Kan had been working on advanced computing projects for Sun.
"Clearly everyone feels that we've lost a valued employee and trusted friend and colleague that we'll miss greatly," said Motamedi.
Kan helped develop an open source version of the Gnutella protocol, which marked a further step in popularizing the peer-to-peer file-sharing revolution pioneered by the Napster song-swapping service.
The Gnutella computer code emerged as Napster's legal problems mounted and its millions of users were looking for new ways to swap songs for free on the Internet.
Kan and a few fellow programmers did not create Gnutella, but tweaked the Gnutella protocol so it could be replicated by other programmers around the world, unleashing massive music, video and software file-sharing.
Kan and his group brought Gnutella into the limelight after an early version of the program was released briefly on the Web by an employee of America Online.
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.
Kan, who came to be known as the unofficial spokesman for Gnutella, often said the technology differed from Napster because it had no company to sue or central computer to shut down.
Unlike Napster, which allowed people to trade songs through centralized computer servers, Gnutella simply transfers files from one personal computer to another - making it much more difficult to monitor.
In June 2000, Kan started California-based InfraSearch Inc., a peer-to-peer search engine technology company, that eventually attracted high-profile investors such as Netscape alumni Marc Andreessen and Mike Homer.
InfraSearch was acquired by Sun Microsystems in March 2001. Kan also joined the company at that time to work on Sun's peer-to-peer project known as Project JXTA. More recently he had been working on advanced development projects around distributed computing.
"Gene contributed much to the industry, specifically in the peer-to-peer space," Sun said, in a statement. "Gene brought new ideas to the organization and stretched our thinking."
Kan graduated from the University of California, Berkeley's College of Engineering, in 1997 with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.
"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.
Doctorow said Kan's personality recently began to take on a tone of depression and described his colleague as "dour."