Originally Published: Wednesday, 28 February 2001 Author: Pekka Himanen
Published to: daily_feature/Linux.com Feature Story Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

A Brief History of Computer Hackerism (Excerpt Part One)

The staff at Linux.com are proud to publish the first of four excerpts from the acclaimed new work, "The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age" by Pekka Himanen, Linus Torvalds and Manuel Castells. (Random House, January 2001, 288 pages)

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A Brief History of Computer Hackerism

Pekka Himanen

Now it came to pass that Microsoft had waxed great and mighty among the Microchip Corporations; mightier than any of the Mainframe Corporations before it, it had waxed. And Gates' heart was hardened, and he swore unto his Customers and their Engineers the words of this curse: "Children of von Neumann, hear me. IBM and the Mainframe Corporations bound thy forefathers with grave and perilous Licenses, such that ye cried unto the spirits of Turing and von Neumann for deliverance. Now I say unto ye: I am greater than any Corporation before me. Will I loosen your Licenses? Nay, I will bind thee with Licenses twice as grave and ten times more perilous than my forefathers. . . . I will capture and enslave thee as no generation has been enslaved before. And wherefore will ye crye then unto the spirits of Turing, and von Neumann, and Moore? They cannot hear ye. I am become a greater Power than they. Ye shall cry only unto me, and shall live by my mercy and my wrath. I am the Gates of Hell; I hold the portal to MSNBC and the keys to the Blue Screen of Death. Be ye afraid; be ye greatly afraid; serve only me, and live."1

The Gospel of Tux

So opens The Gospel According to Tux, a humorous hacker text that contrasts the closed software development model represented by Microsoft with the open development model represented by Linux and other hacker projects (Tux is the name of Linux's penguin mascot). The hacker software's openness means that hackers publish the source code of their programs and permit all others to use, test, and develop it.

The hackers' open-source model or hacker ethic is very similar to the scientific ethic, which also emphasizes open creativity. Accordingly, The Gospel According to Tux elevates to heroic status the researchers who openly shared their findings while creating the theoretical foundation for the computer, chief among them Alan Turing and John von Neumann. Optimistically, The Gospel According to Tux goes on to relate how Torvalds revives this spirit in the world of computers:

Now in those days there was in the land of Helsinki a young scholar named Linus the Torvald. Linus was a devout man, a disciple of RMS [Richard Stallman, another famous hacker] and mighty in the spirit of Turing, von Neumann and Moore. One day as he was meditating on the Architecture, Linus fell into a trance and was granted a vision. And in the vision he saw a great Penguin, serene and well-favoured, sitting upon an ice floe eating fish. And at the sight of the Penguin Linus was deeply afraid, and he cried unto the spirits of Turing, von Neumann and Moore for an interpretation of the dream. And in the dream the spirits of Turing, von Neumann and Moore answered and spoke unto him, saying, "Fear not, Linus, most beloved hacker. You are exceedingly cool and froody. The great Penguin which you see is an Operating System which you shall create and deploy unto the earth. The ice floe is the earth and all the systems thereof, upon which the Penguin shall rest and rejoice at the completion of its task. And the fish on which the Penguin feeds are the crufty Licensed code bases which swim beneath all the earth's systems. The Penguin shall hunt and devour all that is crufty, gnarly and bogacious; all code which wriggles like spaghetti, or is infested with blighting creatures, or is bound by grave and perilous Licenses shall it capture. And in capturing shall it replicate, and in replicating shall it document, and in documentation shall it bring freedom, serenity and most cool froodiness to the earth and all who code therein.

Linux has arguably taken the open-source model or hacker ethic furthest so far. Still, spiritually it is the continuation of a long hacker tradition which started at MIT, where some students began to call themselves "hackers" at the beginning of the 1960s (the word itself naturally existed before, but they started to use it as anme for people who "program enthusiastically").2

It is important to see that our network society was not built only by enterprises and governments. Hackers played a crucial role in the creation of the foremost symbols of our time: the Internet and the Web (which together can be called "the Net"), and the personal computer, and much of the software used for running them. Since the media nowadays tend to give the impression that progress depends on enterprises listed on the NASDAQ and on governmental information-society strategies, it is useful to briefly review the hackers' role in the development of the network society. Because the main purpose of this brief history is to counter the dominant image, the presentation does not try to be a comprehensive list of all important hacker creations and hackers (which number in the hundreds), but selects some of the most influential examples as a balance to the picture of our time.

The History of Unix

We can start with Linux, on which a significant part of the Net is currently run. Linux did not appear out of nowhere and not through Linus Torvalds alone: in tune with the hacker spirit, the Linux network based its project -- the creation of a Unix-like operating system -- on three older and well-known Unix hacker projects. The first one of these was the original Unix, which was created by hacker Ken Thompson in 1969 after he left the University of California at Berkeley for AT&T's Bell Laboratories. Dennis Ritchie, who created the C language for developing Unix, had an equally significant part in its birth.3 As a former Berkleyite, Thompson in subsequent years collaborated a great deal with the BSD Unix project that had been started by hacker Bill Joy in Berkeley in 1977 (BSD = Berkeley Software Distribution).4 This collaboration worked well until 1979, which was when the telephone giant AT&T decided to turn Unix into a commercial product.

The third hacker project leading to Linux was the GNU project begun in 1983 by Richard Stallman at MIT's AI Lab in strong reaction to the commercialization of operating systems. On October 27, 1983, Stallman sent a message to the newsgroups net.unix-wizards and net.usoft telling that "Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free to everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs and equipment are greatly needed."5 A little later, Stallman expanded this original message into an entire hacker manifesto, "The GNU Manifesto" (1985). The best known creations of the GNU project are Emacs, an editor favored by many hackers, and GCC, a C compiler that has been very important to the development of Linux (Torvalds himself says: "the portability of Linux is very much tied to the fact that GCC is ported to major chip architectures"6).

Typically, Linux is used as a kernel for a much larger system that includes also many GNU and BSD programs. Altogether, the history of Unix and its culmination, Linux, has realized in an exemplary fashion what Thompson and Ritchie were honored for with the ACM Turing Award in 1983: "The genius of the UNIX system is its framework, which enables programmers to stand on the work of others."7 Linux is a hacker network built on top of hacker networks.

Even though Linux started out from older hacker projects, its mode of realization was clearly more dependent on the Internet than any of its predecessors.8 Torvalds started working on Linux in 1991 while he was a student at Helsinki University. After developing an interest in the problems of operating systems, Torvalds imported into his home computer the Unix-like Minix system written by Dutch professor Andrew Tanenbaum, and by studying and at first using it as a developmental framework proceeded to design his own operating system.9

An essential feature of Torvalds' work was that he did not go it alone with his computer but involved others in his project from the very beginning. On August 25, 1991 Linus was ready to post a message to comp.os.minix with the subject line "What would you like to see most in minix?" in which he announced that he was "doing a (free) operating system."10 He received several ideas in reply and even some promises for help in testing the program. The operating system's first version was released on a Finnish server nic.funet.fi as source code free to all in September 1991.11 (The system received the name "Linux" from the server's administrator, Ari Lemmke. Linus' first name for it was "Freix" as a combination of "freak" and "Unix.")

The next, improved version was available from the same server as soon as early October. After its publication, Linus extended an even more direct invitation to hackers to join him in the development of the new system. On October 5, 1991 he posted the message: "Do you pine for the nice days of minix-1.1, when men were men and wrote their own device drivers?" In the same message he asked for tips about information sources, and finished the message with a yet more practical invitation to hackers to join in the development.12

Development advanced quickly. Within a month of the project's publication, other programmers had joined in, and Linux started to be disseminated by two new servers. Since then, the Linux network has grown at an incredible rate and amazing creative pace. Thousands of programmers (including luminaries like Alan Cox) have participated in Linux's development, and their numbers are growing steadily. Linux has expanded into a full-fledged operating system, gradually assimilating many programs created in the GNU and BSD projects. There are millions of users, and their number, too, is growing. Anyone can participate in its development, and anyone is welcome to use it freely.13

The Internet and the Web

The second important chapter in the history of computer hackerism came with the birth of the Internet. Its true beginnings also date back to 1969.14 The U.S. Department of Defense's research unit ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) played an important role, through the Information Processing Techniques Office, in setting up the Internet's predecessor, the Arpanet. This was thanks largely to the lasting influence of the Office's director, Joseph C. R. Licklider, who had first written of his visions for a computer network in an article "Man-Computer Symbiosis," published in 1960. However, the extent and significance of the government's input is usually exaggerated. In Inventing the Internet (1999), the most thorough history of the Internet to date, Janet Abbate demonstrates how the appointment of former university researchers to managerial positions caused the Net to develop according to self-organizing principles common to scientific practice. As a result, the most significant portion of that development was soon directed by the Network Working Group, a cluster of hackers like Vinton Cerf culled from a talented group of university students. Cerf's comment gives a good indication of the freedom ARPA granted them: "We were just rank amateurs, and we were expecting that some authority would finally come along and say, 'Here's how we are going to do it.' And nobody ever came along."15

The Network Working Group that created key Arpanet protocols operated on the open model: anyone was allowed to contribute ideas, which were then developed collectively. The solutions were published from the very beginning as RFCs (request for comment), so that others could use, test, and develop them. This model was followed by the International Network Working Group that Cerf organized as its successor in 1972. In the same open spirit, this group (especially Cerf, Bob Kahn, Bob Metcalfe, Gerard Lelann, Jon Postel, and Danny Cohen) created Internet's key protocols (especially TCP/IP = Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol, which determine how information is transmitted on the Internet).

Finally, in the early eighties, ARPA officially disengaged itself from the Internet. Since then, an even stronger self-selected group of hackers has been central to the Net's development: the International Network Working Group's successor, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which was founded in 1986. Scott Bradner, one of the world's leading experts on the Internet infrastructure, defines its task: "Apart from TCP/IP itself [which was developed by the INWG], all of the basic technology of the Internet was developed or has been refined in the IETF."16 Presently, the IETF functions under the umbrella of the Internet Society, founded in 1992 on the initiative of Cerf. All development has been and still is conducted openly sharing ideas and source code. The Internet still does not have any central directorate that guides its development; rather, its technology is developed by an open community of hackers. This community discusses ideas, and they become "standards" only if the larger Internet community thinks they are good and starts to use them. Reflecting on this development, Abbate sums up her account on the Internet's progress by noting that "there seems to have been no corporate participation in the design of the Internet. Like its predecessor [the Arpanet], the Internet was designed, informally and with little fanfare, by a self-selected group of experts."17

When one considers the successfulness of the Internet's developmental model, it is worth remembering that TCP/IP was not the only suggestion of its time for a "network of networks." The two biggest standardization organizations CCITT and OSI had their own official standards (X.25 and ISO). On the basis of Abbate's research, it seems that one of the main reasons why these traditional standardization organizations' protocols did not succeed was the significantly more closed nature of these organizations' operation.18

The same hacker-inspired history repeats itself in the World Wide Web, which began with Tim Berners-Lee's, a British hacker's, vision of a worldwide hypertext: "Suppose I could program my computer to create a space in which anything could be linked to anything," he wrote about his dream (which he initially called Enquire).19 Berners-Lee began the realization of his vision in 1990 while working at the particle physics research center CERN in Switzerland. Berners-Lee was by no means the first to dream of a global hypertext. The best-known visionary of this idea is Ted Nelson, the inventor of the term "hypertext" in 1960's. In his best-known work on the subject, Literary Machines (1981), Nelson for his part acknowledges his indebtedness to one of the most influential representatives of American information processing technology, Vannevar Bush. As early as the 1940s, Bush came up with the idea of a hypertext device he called Memex ("As We May Think", 1945). Douglas Engelbart, active in the development of the Internet, presented his oNLine System in San Francisco in 1968 based on the ideas of his 1962 article "Augmenting Human Intellect. A Conceptual Framework": it contained many of the same elements now found in the Web, including the graphical interface and the mouse, which were partly developed for this system. (Even it was not the very first working hypertext system -- Adries van Dam's team, which built a hypertext system at Brown University in 1967, claims that honor).20 When Apple published its HyperCard program in 1987, after first borrowing the ideas of a graphical interface and mouse in its 1984 Macintosh, it became the first widely used hypertext system. Berners-Lee says, however, that he was not familiar with these visions when he first started to developed his idea in 1980. However, he learned about Nelson's ideas in 1988 when he read more about hypertext and so in his 1989 idea paper "Information Management", he refers to Nelson explicitly.21 Also, Berners-Lee implemented the first version of the World Wide Web on a NeXT computer, which was built by the company that Steve Jobs founded after Apple, and which continued Apple's tradition of advanced hypertext capabilites.22

Although Berners-Lee was not the first one to imagine a world-wide hypertext, he was the first one to make that dream true by working in true hacker style. From the beginning, he published his programs as open-source code. In his book Weaving the Web (1999), Berners-Lee describes the way other developers (like Robert Cailliau) gradually joined in to work on the code: "interested people on the Internet provided the feedback, stimulation, ideas, source-code contributions, and moral support that would have been hard to find locally. The people of the Internet built the Web, in true grassroots fashion."23 The spread of the Web has also been facilitated by the fact that the source code of every Web page is always open to view, and as a consequence, Web page makers have been able to learn from each other in order to further develop ideas.

The breakthrough of the Web for the masses occurred in 1993 when Marc Andreessen, a student at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) finished Mosaic, a graphical browser for PCs, whose source code was available.24 By October, 1994, the evolution of the Web had already become so accelerated that hackers under the aegis of Berners-Lee decided to organize themselves into the informal World Wide Web Consortium, on the model of the Internet Society. Programs created by the consortium are always published as open-source code.25

At the time of its breakthrough, the Web had direct competitors, from which it differed to its advantage in its social model. Until 1994, the World Wide Web was essentially just one of many ideas for new utilizations of the Internet, and it was by no means clear which one of these would spearhead its evolution (nor was it even obvious that any of them would significantly influence the Internet). The most powerful competing idea was the Gopher information system developed by the University of Minnesota. Gopher "hit the wall" in the spring of 1993, when the decision was made to limit its free use. Berners-Lee describes this event: "This was an act of treason in the academic community and the Internet community. Even if the university never charged anyone a dime, the fact that the school had announced it was reserving the right to charge people for the use of the gopher protocols meant it had crossed the line."26 Berners-Lee made sure that CERN would allow him to keep the development of the Web entirely open. Gopher's fate was finally suffered also by Andreessen's Mosaic, when he went on to found Netscape with Jim Clark.27 Netscape closed the source code, which may have been its most fatal error in its lost fight with Microsoft Internet Explorer as there was no way that it could have won the big Microsoft in its own closed-source game. Netscape has reissued its browser again as open source code in 1998 (called Mozilla), but it is uncertain if this helps anymore because the browser is already such a monster that it is very difficult for others to join in at this point.28

But there are many other succesful open-source implementations of the openly developed Internet and Web standards. The NCSA Web server, developed by the student Rob McCool and others, had a similar explosive impact on the server side than Mosaic had on the user side. McCool eventually also joined Netscape, but this part of the hacker heritage was saved better because the so-called Apache hackers, such as the former Berkeley student Brian Behlendorf, started to develop the NCSA server further from the very beginning as open-source code. In fact, on the serverl level, hacker programs play such an essential role in the Net's running that it largely relies on the availability of open-source software. Keith Porterfield summarizes the Net's dependence on hackers by expressing what would happen in practice if the hacker programs would be retracted from the technical core of them (my brief comments on the reasons in parentheses):

  • Over half the Web sites on the Internet would disappear (because about 2/3 of the Web sites are run by Apache)
  • Usenet news groups would also go away (because they are supported by the hacker-created INN program)
  • But that wouldn't matter, because e-mail wouldn't be working (because most e-mail transmissions are made through the hacker-created Sendmail program)
  • You'll be typing "" into your browser instead of "www.netaction.org" (because the Internet's plain language "address list" depends on the hacker-created BIND program)29

INN (InterNetNews) is the creation of hackers like Rich Salz.30 Sendmail was originally developed by a Berkeley student, Eric Allman in 1979.31 BIND stands for Berkeley Internet Name Domain and it was originally developed by the Berkeley students Douglas Terry, Mark Painter, David Riggle and Songnian Zhou.32 All of these hacker projects are presently carried on by the Internet Sofware Consortium (although its involvement in Sendmail takes place indirectly through its support to the Sendmail Consortium). It was this same hacker spirit that informed also the decision of the inventors of Internet routers, Sandra Lerner and Leonard Bosack (with others), to avail their source code with the routers, even after they founded their company, Cisco Systems.33

The Personal Computer

Although at the moment the Internet and the Web dominate our collective imagination, their mass breakthrough would not have been possible, of course, without the creation of that other remarkable invention of our time, the personal computer. Even though we now mostly think of personal computers as the products of large computer firms, they, too, were first thought up by individual hackers. The personal computer's ideational history goes back to the MIT's Tech Model Railroad Club hackers who pioneered interactive computing.34 In their time in the late 50s and early 60s, the computer field was still dominated by IBM's model of batch-processed mainframe computers (like 704, 709, and 7090), in which programmers did not have direct access to the computer but had to receive permission to pass their programs on to a special operator. It could take days to receive the results.

In contrast to to this method, the MIT hackers favored interactive computing on DEC PDP minicomputers, in which the programmer could write his program directly into the computer, see the results, and immediately make desirable corrections. In terms of social organization, the difference is great: in an interaction that eliminates the 'operator,' individuals can employ technology in a more liberating manner. This elimination of the operators, the high priesthood of the computer world, is comparable in experience to the elimination of telephone operators in the history of the telecommunications. It meant a freeing up of direct exchange between individuals. Thus the MIT hackers turned minicomputers into their "personal computers."

The MIT hackers also programmed the first ever computer game, in which a user could for the first time experience the possibilities of the interactive graphical interface. In Steve Russell's 1962 Spacewar two vessels armed with torpedos, guided by controls designed by the club, joined battle in outer space. Peter Samson added a planetary background to the game, called "Expensive Planetarium" because its purpose was to show the stars in exactly the same positions they could have been seen by looking out the window -- but much more expensively, as the user time of the computer was very valuable back then. Anyone was allowed to copy the game, and its source code was available. While developing computer graphics technology, the game also marked the beginning of the subsequent computer game industry through companies like Nolan Bushnell's Atari. Currently, the game industry's sales figures equal those of the movie industry.35

The actual breakthrough of the modern personal computer occurred in the more political atmosphere of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s.36 Central to it was the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of hackers that held its first meeting on March 5, 1975 in Gordon French's garage in Menlo Park. Through its predecessor, the People's Computer Company (which despite its name was not a business enterprise but rather a non-profit organization), the group had connections to other parts of the Sixties' counterculture and favored its principle of giving power to the people (movements advancing freedom of speech, the status of women and homosexuals, the environment, and animals were strong in the Bay Area).

Before the Homebrew Computer Club, French was active in the PCC (People's Computer Company, which was not a real company but rather a charitable organization). PCC's founder Bob Albrecht promoted the use of computers in the fight against bureaucratic powers-that-be. The cover of the first issue of the PCC's journal, October 1972, carried this text: "Computers are mostly used against people instead of for people. Used to control people instead of to FREE them. Time to change all that -- we need a People's Computer Company." One attendee at the PCC's Wednesday night meetings was Lee Felsenstein, a student at the University of Berkeley (who had also participated in the Free Speech Movement and the student occupation of a university building in December 1964). Felsenstein's goal was to provide people everywhere with the free use of computers. According to his proposal, this would provide "a communication system which allows people to make contact with each other on the basis of mutually expressed interests, without having to cede judgment to third parties." In a Rolling Stone article in December 1972, Stewart Brand summed up the spirit of the PCC: "Ready or not, computers are coming to the people. That's good news, maybe the best since psychedelics."37 Another participant in PCC meetings, Ted Nelson, voiced this view most emphatically in his self-published book Computer Lib (1974): "COMPUTER POWER TO THE PEOPLE! DOWN WITH CYBERCRUD [a term coined by Nelson to mean "putting things over on people using computers"]!"38

Both Albrecht and Felsenstein moved on from the PCC to the Homebrew Computer Club, the latter acting as its discussion moderator at a later time (Nelson also visited the club but could not keep pace with its progress into advanced technology). In 1976, using the information shared freely within the club, Steve Wozniak built the first personal computer for the use of people without engineering degrees, the Apple I. In accordance with the hacker ethic, Wozniak freely distributed blueprints of his computer and published sections of his program. Wozniak's hacker-created computer inspired the larger personal-computer revolution, the consequences of which are everywhere around us. The irony in that later development is that Apple fell behind in its competition with the PC concept IBM launched in 1981 largely because, after its corporatization led by Steve Jobs, Apple ended up with a closed architecture. By conrast, IBM's PC succeeded because its open architecture made it possible for others to join in. Currently, IBM -- the old enemy of hackers -- is even a strong proponent of the open-source software like Linux and Apache.

The PC-based Net as a Social Medium

Originally, governments and the corporations saw computers as programmable calculators. To fully appreciate Wozniak's accomplishment, we must remember that the computers preceding it had often been machines the size of refrigerators that had to be kept in special climate-controlled rooms. The CEOs of the world's largest computer firms did not believe in a future for personal computers, expressing opinions such as "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers" (Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943). These predictions might even have come true if Wozniak had not succeeded in "socializing" the computer (before founding Apple with Jobs, Wozniak also offered his computer to Hewlett-Packard, which did not get its social point).

Similarily, the original governmental vision of the Arpanet was to share computing resources. One early paper expressed the vision in this way: "Within a local community, time sharing systems already permit the sharing of software resources. An effective network would eliminate the size and distance limitations on such communities."39 It was a lack of understanding of the Net's social potential that also led AT&T to reject the offer for being the Net's operator in 1972.

The hackers transformed computers and the Net into a social medium that was not part of either the governmental nor corporate plans. Email was invented in July 1970 by Ray Tomlinson, who is also the one to thank (or blame) for the @-symbol in email addresses.40 Abbate describes the consequence of this unexpected innovation: "ARPANET users came to rely on email in their day-to-day activities, and before long email had eclipsed all other network applications in volume of traffic."41 From then on, e-mail has been the most popular use of the Net.

Later on, hackers made other social inventions that were originally independent of the Net but soon came parts of its fabric. In 1978 two Chicago students, Ward Christensen and Randy Suess, created the first Bulletin Board System, which made electronic discussions possible, and in 1983, a Californian hacker Tom Jennings networked the BBSs through his Fidonet. Whereas Fidonet was the personal computer world's telephone-line-based solution, Tom Truscott, Jim Ellis, and Steve Bellovin at Duke and the University of North Carolina developed the Unix-world's Usenet news groups.42 In 1988, Jarkko Oikarinen, a student at the University of Oulu in Finland, designed the real-time conversation environment or the chat.43

The hacker ideal of openness influenced also strongly the nature of these communication forms. They all implement the idea of being able to express views freely. To ensure this, California libertarian John Gilmore, who is best-known for his slogan "The Net treats censorship as damage and routes around it," cofounded in 1987 the alt(ernative) newsgroup domain, where anyone can start a new group and discussion is totally uncensored.44 Gilmore has also started (with Tim May and Eric Hughes) a group that develops encryption technology to secure the privacy of one's free expressions, the Cypherpunks. Its goals are summed up in Hughes' "A Cypherpunk's Manifesto" of 1993:

We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. We must come together and create systems which allow anonymous transactions to take place. People have been defending their own privacy for centuries with whispers, darkness, envelopes, closed doors, secret handshakes, and couriers. The technologies of the past did not allow for strong privacy, but electronic technologies do. We the Cypherpunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money.45

Cypherpunks are joined by other hackers in this goal: for example, a Finnish hacker Tatu Ylönen wrote the SSH (Secure Shell) program for encrypting one's sensitive Net connections, which currently continues as the OpenSSH project.46 In 1993, another Finnish hacker Johan Helsingius created an anonymous remailer that made it possible to send emails or newsgroup messages anonymously so one could express views without their being in any way traceable. He describes the need for such a server: "These remailers have made it possible for people to discuss very sensitive matters, such as domestic violence, school bullying or human rights issues anonymously and confidentially on the Internet." In another context, he adds: "Where you're dealing with minorities -- racial, political, sexual, whatever -- you always find cases in which people belonging to a minority would like to discuss things that are important to them without having to identify who they are."47

Overall, the history of computer hackerism has shown what a great impact people who "program enthusiastically" and believe in the hacker ethic (a hacker's definition in the "jargon file") can have. This history is witness to the significance of the hacker ethic's driving value: "The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing free software and facilitating access to information and to computing resources wherever possible" (the definition of the hacker ethic in the "jargon file").48


1. Lennier, Gospel of Tux.
2. Cf. Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1984), p. 23 and Raymond (ed.), The Jargon File (published as The New Hacker's Dictionary [1996]), s.v. hacker. See also Raymond's "A Brief History of Hackerdom" (1999).
3. For more details on the history of Unix, see Ritchie, "The Evolution of the UNIX Time-Sharing System" (1984) and "Turing Award Lecture: Reflections on Software Research" (1984). See also Peter Salus, A Quarter Century of Unix (1994).
4. Details in McKusick, "Twenty Years of Berkeley Unix: From AT&T-Owned to Freely Redistributable" (1999).
5. For more on GNU's history see Stallman, "The GNU Operating system and the Free Software Movement" in DiBona, Ockman & Stone (1999).
6. Torvalds, "The Linux Edge" (1999), p. 107.
7. Ritchie, "Turing Award Lecture: Reflections on Software Research" (1984), p. 758.
8. For the early history of Linux, see Torvalds, "Re: Writing an OS" (1992) and "Birthday" (1992).
9. Cf. Tanenbaum, Operating Systems: Design and Implementation (1987).
10. Torvalds, "What Would You Like to See Most in Minix?" (1991).
11. Torvalds, "Birthday" (1992).
12. Torvalds, "Free Minix-like Kernel Source for 386-AT" (1991).
13. Nowadays Torvalds uploads the newest version of the kernel to ftp.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel.
14. For general histories of the Internet, see Salus, Casting the Net: From ARPANET to Internet and Beyond (1995); Hafner and Lyon, Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (1998); Naughton, A Brief History of the Future: The Origins of the Internet (1999); and especially Abbate, Inventing the Internet (1999); and Leiner et al., "A Brief History of the Internet" (2000).
15. Ap. Abbate, Inventing the Internet (1999), p. 73.
16. Bradner, "The Internet Engineering Task Force" (1999), p. 47; for more on the IETF, see Bradner's whole article; also Internet Engineering Task Force, "The Tao of IETF"; and Cerf, "IETF and ISOC" (1995); for a brief description of the Internet Society, see its "All About the Internet Society."
17. Abbate, Inventing the Internet (1999), p. 127.
18. Abbate, Inventing the Internet (1999), ch. 5.
19. Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web (1999), p. 4. For general histories of the Web, see Reid, Architects of the Web: 1,000 Days That Built the Future of Business (1997); Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web (1999), ch. 6; and Gillies and Cailliau, How the Web Was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web (2000). John Naughton also describes the development briefly in A Brief History of the Future (1999), chs. 14-16.
20. Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing (1998), p. 260. For Adries van Dam's hypertext system, see Naughton, A Brief History of the Future (2000), p. 220.
21. Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web (1999), p. 4.
22. Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web (1999), pp. 28-9. For the history of the idea of hypertext in humanities, see Landow, Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (1997).
23. Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web (1999), p. 47.
24. For more on Andreessen's role in the development of the Web, cf. Reid, Architects of the Web (1997), ch. 1; Naughton, A Brief History of the Future (1999), ch. 15; Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web (1999), ch. 6; and Gillies and Cailliau, How the Web Was Born (2000), ch. 7.
25. For more, see World Wide Web Consortium's "About the World Wide Web Consortium" (2001).
26. Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web (1999), p. 73.
27. Cf. Clark, Netscape Time: The Making of the Billion-Dollar Start-Up That Took On Microsoft (1999).
28. Cf. Mozilla.org, "Mozilla.org: Our Mission" (2000); Hamerly, Paquin, Walton, "Freeing the Source: The Story of Mozilla" (1999); Raymond, "The Revenge of the Hackers" (1999).
29. Porterfield, "Information Wants to Be Valuable". For Apache figures, see Netcraft, The Netcraft Web Server Survey (September 2000).
30. Cf. Internet Software Consortium, "INN: InterNetNews".
31. Cf. Sendmail.org, "Sendmail.org".
32. Cf. Internet Software Consortium, "A Brief History of BIND".
33. Bunnell with Brate, Making the Cisco Connection (2000), ch. 1
34. For details, see Campbell-Kelly and Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine (1996), pp. 222-6; Levy, Hackers (1984), Part 1; and Rifkin and Harrar, The Ultimate Entrepreneur: The Story of Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation (1988).
35. Cf. Brand, "Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums" in II Cybernetic Frontiers (1974) and Levy, Hackers (1984), pp. 56-65. For the evolution of the computer game industry, see Herz, Joystick Nation: How Videogames Gobbled Our Money, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired our Minds (1997), ch. 1, and Poole, Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution (2000), ch. 2. For the sales figures, cf. Interactive Digital Software Association, State of the Industry Report (1999), p. 3.
36. For general histories of the personal computer, see Levy, Hackers, Part 2; Cambell-Kelly and Aspray, Computer (1996), ch. 10; Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing (1998), ch. 7; and Freiberger and Swaine, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer (2000).
37. Brand's article is also published in his II Cybernetic Frontiers (1974). The reference is to p. 39.
38. Nelson, Computer Lib, Introduction to the 1974 edition, p. 6. Cf. Raymond (ed.), The Jargon File (published as The New Hacker's Dictionary [1996]), s.v. cybercrud.
39. Roberts and Wessler, "Computer Network Development to Achieve Resource Sharing" (1970), p. 543.
40. Salus, Casting the Net (1995), p. 95.
41. Abbate, Inventing the Internet (1999), p. 107.
42. Rheingold, Virtual Communities ().
43. Oikarinen, "Early IRC History" (1993).
44. Hardy, The History of the Net (1993).
45. Hughes, "A Cypherpunk's Manifesto" (1993). Gilmore and May have also written their manifestos: see Gilmore, "Privacy, Technology, and the Open Society" (1991) and May, "The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto" (1992).
46. Cf. OpenSSH, "OpenSSH" and SSH Security, "SSH".
47. Penet, "Johan Helsingius closes his Internet remailer" (1993) and Quittner, "Anonymously Yours -- An Interview with Johan Helsingius" (1994). For a short history of Helsingius's anonymous remailer, see Helmers, "A Brief History of anon.penet.fi, the Legendary Anonymous Remailer" (1997).
48. Raymond (ed.), The Jargon File (published as The New Hacker's Dictionary [1996]), s.v. hacker and hacker ethic. The newest version of the file replaces "free software" with "open-source software."


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From The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age by Pekka Himanen with Linus Torvalds and Manuel Castells (Random House, 2001). For more, see www.hackerethic.org. To buy the book from Amazon Barnes and Noble or Powells , click the name of your preferred bookstore. This writing can be published freely on the web with this information included.

Author Bio

Pekka Himanen, b. 1973, did his Ph.D. dissertation in philosophy at the age of 20 at the University of Helsinki. Currently he is doing research with Manuel Castells at the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a member of the President of Finland's small advisory group on the network society issues as well as the group that prepared the Finnish governments network society strategy. Himanen is also a well-known media intellectual in Finland: he has had his own TV series on the philosophy of technology, and there has even been a play written about him. Himanen lives in Berkeley.

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