Chapter 15. The Brotherhood

The Hacker Ethic was changing, even as it spread throughout the country. Its emissaries were the small, low-cost computers sold by Apple, Radio Shack, Commodore (the PET), and Atari. Each was a real computer; the sheer proliferation created a demand for more innovative programs that previous distribution methods could not address. A hacker could no longer distribute clever programs by leaving them in a drawer, as he had at MIT, nor could he rely on a Homebrew Computer Club system of swapping programs at club meetings. Many people who bought these new computers never bothered to join clubs. Instead they relied on computer stores, where they happily paid for programs. When you were desperate for something to fulfill the promise of this thrilling new machine, spending twenty-five dollars for Mystery House seemed almost a privilege. These pioneering computer owners in the early eighties might learn enough about their machines to appreciate the beauty of an unencumbered flow of information, but the Hacker Ethic, microcomputer-style, no longer necessarily implied that information was free.

As companies like On-Line wrote and sold more programs, people who had no desire to become programmers, let alone hackers, began to buy computers, intending only to run packaged software on them. In a way, this represented a fulfillment of the hacker dream—computers for the masses, computers like record players: you’d go to the software store, choose the latest releases, and ...

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