Print

Print


http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/computers/hackers.htm

Some of the key pioneers in the personal computing revolution were not 
driven by entrepeneurial greed. For example, the Community Memory 
project in Berkeley, California was launched in 1973 by Lee Felsenstein. 
The project allowed remote public access to a time-shared XDS mainframe 
in order to provide "a communication system which allows people to make 
contact with each other on the basis of mutually expressed interests, 
without having to cede judgement to third parties." The Community Memory 
project served as a kind of bulletin board where people could post 
notes, information, etc., sort of like an embryonic version of the 
Interenet.

Felsenstein, born in 1945, was the son of a CP district organizer and 
got involved in civil rights struggles in the 1950's. Eventually, he 
hooked up with the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and became a 
committed radical. Lee's other passion was electronics and he entered 
the UC as an electrical engineering major.

Felsenstein then hooked up with another left-of-center computer hacker 
by the name of Bob Halbrecht and the two went on to form a tabloid 
called PCC "People's Computer Company". Among the people drawn to the 
journal was Ted Nelson, a programmer who had bounced from one corporate 
job to another throughout the 60's but who was always repelled by "the 
incredible bleakness of the place in these corridors."

Nelson was the author of "Computer Lib" and announced in its pages that 
"I want to see computers useful to individuals, and the sooner the 
better, without necessary complication or human servility being 
required." Community Memory flourished for a year and a half until the 
XDS started breaking down too often The group disbanded in 1975.

The PCC continued, however, and played a key role in publicizing the 
earliest personal computers. One of the machines that Felsenstein and 
Halbrecht got their hands on was an Altair 8800, the first genuine 
personal computer for sale to the public.

So enamored of the idea of personal computing were Felsentsein and 
Halbrecht that they then launched something called the Homebrew Computer 
Club. The club drew together the initial corps of engineers and 
programmers who would launch the personal computer revolution. Among the 
participants were a couple of adolescents named Steven Jobs and Steve 
Wozniak who went on to form the Apple Corporation.

The hacker ethic which prevailed at the Homebrew Computer Club was 
decidely anticapitalist, but not consciously pro-socialist. Software was 
freely exchanged at the club and the idea of proprietary software was 
anathema to the club members. There were 2 hackers who didn't share 
these altruistic beliefs, namely Paul Allen and Bill Gates. When Allen 
and Gates discovered that their version of Basic which was written for 
the Altair was being distributed freely at the club, they rose hell. The 
19 year old Gates stated in a letter to the club that "Who can afford to 
do professional work for nothing?"

Another interesting example of the anticapitalist hacker ethic is 
personified in one Richard Stallman. Stallman worked at the MIT 
Artificial Intelligence Lab in the early 1970's and, no doubt influenced 
by the spirit of the age, came to see the lab as the embodiment of a 
philosophy which "does not mean advocating a dog-eat-dog jungle. 
American society is already a dog-eat-dog jungle, and its rules maintain 
it that way. We hackers wish to replace those rules with a concern for 
constructive cooperation."

Stallman developed EMACS, the most widely used Unix text editor, and 
went on to form the GNU foundation which distributes EMACS and other 
free software. When you press ctrl-x, ctrl-w upon entering EMACS, you 
can read a statement of the GNU foundation which includes the following 
words "If you distribute copies of a program, whether gratis or for a 
fee, you must give the recipients all the rights you have. You must make 
sure that they, too, receive or get the source code." Can one imagine 
Microsoft Inc. issuing a statement such as this?