Hotline eventually attracted more of an "underground" community, which saw it as an easier to use successor to the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) community. (As it became used more and more for downloading pirated software and pornography, some employees and users left.) Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Hotline Communications lost the bulk of its VC funding, and went out of business later that month. All of its assets were "acquired" in 2002 by Hotsprings, Inc., a new company formed by some ex-employees and shareholders. Hotsprings Inc. has since also abandoned development of the Hotline Connect software suite; the last iteration of Hotline Connect was released in December 2003. The Hotline network is no longer in mainstream use, but some of the online communities survive to this day.
Hotline was designed in 1996 and known as "hotwire" by Australian programmer Adam Hinkley (known online by his username, "Hinks"), then 17 years old, as a Mac OS application. The source code for the Hotline applications was based on a class library, "AppWarrior" (AW), which Hinkley wrote. AppWarrior would later become litigious, as Hinkley wrote parts of it while he was employed by an Australian company, Redrock Holdings. Six other fans of Hotline joined Adam Hinkley's efforts to promote and market the Hotline programs, working day and night and using the company's own products to stay in touch from across the USA, Canada, and Australia. Eventually, Canadian Jason Roks approached Adam Hinkley and encouraged him to move to Toronto, where Hotline Communications, Ltd. was incorporated. In 1997, Hotline won the "Macworld Best of the Show" award at the Boston MacWorld Expo. It received accolades in computer magazines and the mainstream press from Macworld Sweden (which awarded it a "Golden Mouse Award") to the Los Angeles Times, which called it one of the "best kept secrets on the internet". At the time, the company's main objective was to release a stable Windows-compatible version to reach a wider audience.
However, a few months after Hinkley moved to Canada, he and his colleagues at Hotline Communications got into a major disagreement and Hinkley left the firm, encrypting source files for Hotline on Hotline Communication's computers, thus crippling the company. Lawsuits against Hinkley were filed by both Hotline Communications and Redrock, and Hinkley lost copyright of his "AppWarrior" library as well as rights over the "Hotline" software. The legal battle and Hinkley's case drew some media attention, especially on the Internet.
At the end of the 1990s, by then outdated Hotline software started to gradually fade, as other systems became increasingly popular. Many early Hotline users felt sympathy for Hinkley and viewed Hotline Communications with a bad eye and the Hotline Connect suite did not sell well. In September 2001, Hotline Communications announced development of version 2.0 of the Hotline suite had been stopped, beta versions of which had not been well received by the community, and laid off most of its employees. In mid-October of the same year, the company announced the re-hire of their engineering team "in anticipation of the release of Hotline 2.0" on their website (http://www.bigredh.com/ - offline as of May 2006). However, no stable build of Hotline 2.0 was ever released.
The Hotline applications were distributed as shareware and combined chat, message board and file transfer capabilities and operated using a client/server (not peer-to-peer) model. Hotline predates the Napster and Gnutella file sharing products. The Hotline protocol was a binary protocol which accounted for its high speed efficient transfers in the days when most internet users still used modems and dialup.
Hotline Connect consisted of three applications, distributed separately (via Internet download or on promotional CDs):
Jörn and Mirko Hartmann released similar software deliberately kept Mac-only called Carracho in 1998 , still used today by a small, tight-knit group of users. Pitbull Pro is also worth mentioning at
There have been several open-source versions of the Hotline Client and Server suite, which were not based on the official source code, and provide several protocol enhancements (also known as HOPE - HOtline Protocol Extension). Some versions also support and IRC bridge or KDX bridge. Most of the work on the Hotline enhancements have been done by r0r (HOPE, KDX), kang (IRC) and Devin Teske. See KDX, and Darknet for details.