Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution

The Last of the True Hackers

Richard Stallman, also known as RMS as per his initials, was called by Levy the "last of the true hackers" (this did not mean "last real hacker", but rather the last faithful member of the class of hackers that Levy called the "true hackers"). Stallman was getting a physics degree from Harvard at the same time as he was hacking at MIT's Tech Square building. He was for people cooperating instead of competing, and he did not like computers that restricted user access to computers through passwords. He advocated choosing the empty password so anyone could use the computers.

RMS also wrote the text editor EMACS and shared it on the condition that those who modify its source code, also share their modifications. While RMS was fighting to keep the Hacker Ethic going with the computers at MIT, Richard Greenblatt and other AI hackers came up with a LISP machine and sought to form a company to sell them. Greenblatt was unwilling to yield to business pressures and wanted to form a company that would maintain the Hacker Ethic. Many others disagreed and the result was two competing companies. LISP Machine Incorporated, or LMI, was headed by Greenblatt, and Symbolics was headed by Russ Noftsker.

Symbolics hired most of the lab hackers, and a schism was created between the two groups of hackers, to the point where some would not even talk to each other. Stallman saw a whole hacker culture die as the existing hackers left for these companies and there were no new hackers to fill their shoes. RMS held Symbolics responsible for the lab's death, and set out to help their competitor LMI in response. RMS subsequently launched development of the GNU operating system, based on the UNIX design but following the principles of free software. Although the Hacker Ethic was not as pure as in the beginning, it was being spread along the World with the advent of the personal computer, and later of the Internet.