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Hackers by Steven Levy

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Chapter 19. Applefest

The Third Generation lived with compromises in the Hacker Ethic that would have caused the likes of Greenblatt and Gosper to recoil in horror. It all stemmed from money. The bottom line of programming was ineluctably tied to the bottom line on a publisher’s ledger sheet. Elegance, innovation, and coding pyrotechnics were much admired, but a new criterion for hacker stardom had crept into the equation: awesome sales figures. Early hackers might have regarded this as heresy: all software—all information—should be free, they’d argue, and pride should be invested in how many people use your program and how much they are impressed with it. But the Third-Generation hackers never had the sense of community of their predecessors, and early on they came to see healthy sales figures as essential to becoming winners.

One of the more onerous of the compromises in the Ethic grew out of publishers’ desire to protect their sales figures. It involved intentional tampering with computer programs to prevent a program from being easily copied by users, perhaps for distribution without further payment to the publisher or author. The software publishers called this process “copy protection,” but a substantial percentage of true hackers called it war.

Crucial to the Hacker Ethic was the fact that computers, by nature, do not consider information proprietary. The architecture of a computer benefited from the easiest, most logical flow of information possible. Someone had to substantially ...

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