Chapter 11. Tiny BASIC

While the hunger to build and expand the Altair was as insatiable in the hardware hackers of the seventies as the desire to hack PDP-1s and 6s was to the MIT hackers of the sixties, a conflict was developing around the Homebrew Computer Club which had the potential to slow the idealistic, bootstrapping process and stem the rising tide lifting them all. At the heart of the problem was one of the central tenets of the Hacker Ethic: the free flow of information, particularly information that helped fellow hackers understand, explore, and build systems. Previously, there had not been much of a problem in getting that information from others. The “mapping section” time at Homebrew was a good example of that—secrets that big institutional companies considered proprietary were often revealed. And by 1976 there were more publications plugging into what was becoming a national pipeline of hardware hackers—besides PCC and the Homebrew newsletter there was now Byte magazine in New Hampshire—you could always find interesting assembly-language programs, hardware hints, and technical gossip. New hacker-formed companies would give out schematics of their products at Homebrew, not worrying about whether competitors might see them; and after the meetings at The Oasis, the young, blue-jeaned officers of the different companies would freely discuss how many boards they shipped, and what new products they were considering.

Then came the outcry over Altair BASIC. It would give ...

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