“Speak Freely” and John Walkers EOL announcement

So there's a tool called Speak Freely written by John Walker (a very cool guy, take a look around his site, www.fourmilab.ch).  He's decided to stop working on it, and has declared an “end of life” for it of Jan 15th, 2004.


That's fine, but in his FAQ, one of the main reasons he gives for it is the fact that the nature of the Internet as a collection of equal peers has changed, mostly by NAT boxes.


Most home users are behind some sort of firewall or router, and this prevents my app on my computer from talking to my app on your computer - there's no direct way to get stuff from my PC to your PC, since you're behind a firewall.  This is a good thing.


John, however, thinks that it's a bad thing, since it turns your average user of the Internet from someone who can both consume and produce content, into someone who can only consume.


This is a bogus statement for a number of reasons, but even taking it as it stands, there is a protocol specifically designed to allow applications to communicate with firewalls to say “I want to listen to the outside world on this port”.  Universal Plug and Play (UPnP).


UPnP is what allows me to send files to and receive files from other MSN Messenger users without having to do anything explicitly to my firewall.  I'm not sure the implementation is the best (turning it on opens you up to stuff inside your network being able to more easily reconfigure your router) but it's a real solution to the problem John's talking about, and it's implemented today in many mainstream Cable/DSL routers.