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what's with pulseaudio

Sometime in the last month or two a regular upgrade of my Wheezy systems
caused them to start running /usr/bin/pulseaudio.  Related directories popped
up, including:

  /tmp/pulse-tHdn2FVycDvX (e.g.)

as well as these files:


Did pulseaudio replace some other audio system?  If I shut it down will I
have no sound?  (I'll try this if no one happens to know the answer.)   And
what's in these .pulse-cookie files?  I'm leery of anything with "cookie" in
its name.


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