O'Reilly logo

Hackers by Steven Levy

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required

Who’s Who: The Wizards and Their Machines

Bob Albrecht. Founder of People’s Computer Company who took visceral pleasure in exposing youngsters to computers.

Altair 8800. The pioneering microcomputer that galvanized hardware hackers. Building this kit made you learn hacking. Then you tried to figure out what to do with it.

Apple II. Steve Wozniak’s friendly, flaky, good-looking computer, wildly successful and the spark and soul of a thriving industry.

Atari 800. This home computer gave great graphics to game hackers like John Harris, though the company that made it was loath to tell you how it worked.

Bob and Carolyn Box. World-record-holding gold prospectors turned software stars, working for Sierra On-Line.

Doug Carlston. Corporate lawyer who chucked it all to form the Brøderbund software company.

Bob Davis. Left a job in a liquor store to become the bestselling author of the Sierra On-Line computer game Ulysses and the Golden Fleece. Success was his downfall.

Peter Deutsch. Bad in sports, brilliant at math, Peter was still in short pants when he stumbled on the TX-0 at MIT—and hacked it along with the masters.

Steve Dompier. Homebrew member who first made Altair sing, and later wrote the Target game on the Sol, which entranced Tom Snyder.

John Draper. The notorious “Captain Crunch” who fearlessly explored phone systems, was jailed, and later hacked microcomputers. Cigarettes made him violent.

Mark Duchaineau. The young Dungeonmaster who copy-protected On-Line’s disks at his whim.

Chris Espinosa. Fourteen-year-old follower of Steve Wozniak and early Apple employee.

Lee Felsenstein. Former “military editor” of the Berkeley Barb and hero of an imaginary science-fiction novel, he designed computers with a “junkyard” approach and was a central figure in Bay Area hardware hacking in the seventies.

Ed Fredkin. Gentle founder of Information International, he thought himself the world’s greatest programmer until he met Stew Nelson. Father figure to hackers.

Gordon French. Silver-haired hardware hacker whose garage held not cars but his homebrewed Chicken Hawk computer, then held the first Homebrew Computer Club meeting.

Richard Garriott. Astronaut’s son who, as Lord British, created the Ultima world on computer disks.

Bill Gates. Cocky wizard and Harvard dropout who wrote Altair BASIC, and complained when hackers copied it.

Bill Gosper. Horowitz of computer keyboards, master math and LIFE hacker at MIT AI lab, guru of the Hacker Ethic, and student of Chinese restaurant menus.

Richard Greenblatt. Single-minded, unkempt, prolific, and canonical MIT hacker who went into night phase so often that he zorched his academic career. The hacker’s hacker.

John Harris. The young Atari 800 game hacker who became Sierra On-Line’s star programmer, but yearned for female companionship.

IBM PC. IBM’s entry into the personal computer market, which amazingly included a bit of the Hacker Ethic and took over.

IBM 704. IBM was The Enemy and this was its machine, the Hulking Giant computer in MIT’s Building 26. Later modified into the IBM 709, then the IBM 7090. Batch-processed and intolerable.

Jerry Jewell. Vietnam vet turned programmer who founded Sirius Software.

Steven Jobs. Visionary, beaded, nonhacking youngster who took Wozniak’s Apple II, made lots of deals, and formed a company that would make a billion dollars.

Tom Knight. At sixteen, an MIT hacker who would name the Incompatible Time-sharing System. Later, a Greenblatt nemesis over the LISP machine schism.

Alan Kotok. The chubby MIT student from Jersey who worked under the rail layout at TMRC, learned the phone system at Western Electric, and became a legendary TX-0 and PDP-1 hacker.

Efrem Lipkin. Hacker-activist from New York who loved machines but hated their uses. Cofounded Community Memory; friend of Felsenstein.

LISP Machine. The ultimate hacker computer, invented mostly by Greenblatt and subject of a bitter dispute at MIT.

“Uncle” John McCarthy. Absentminded but brilliant MIT (later Stanford) professor who helped pioneer computer chess, artificial intelligence, LISP.

Bob Marsh. Berkeley-ite and Homebrewer who shared garage with Felsenstein and founded Processor Technology, which made the Sol computer.

Roger Melen. Homebrewer who cofounded Cromemco company to make circuit boards for Altair. His “Dazzler” played LIFE program on his kitchen table.

Louis Merton. Pseudonym for the AI chess hacker whose tendency to go catatonic brought the hacker community together.

Jude Milhon. Met Lee Felsenstein through a classified ad in the Berkeley Barb and became more than a friend—a member of the Community Memory collective.

Marvin Minsky. Playful and brilliant MIT professor who headed AI lab and allowed the hackers to run free.

Fred Moore. Vagabond pacifist who hated money, loved technology, and cofounded Homebrew Club.

Stewart Nelson. Buck-toothed, diminutive, but fiery AI lab hacker who connected the PDP-1 computer to hack the phone system. Later cofounded Systems Concepts company.

Ted Nelson. Self-described “innovator” and noted curmudgeon who self-published the influential Computer Lib book.

Russell Noftsker. Harried administrator of MIT AI lab in late sixties; later president of Symbolics company.

Adam Osborne. Bangkok-born publisher-turned-computer-manufacturer who considered himself a philosopher. Founded Osborne Computer Company to make “adequate” machines.

PDP-1. Digital Equipment’s first minicomputer and in 1961 an interactive godsend to the MIT hackers and a slap in the face to IBM fascism.

PDP-6. Designed in part by Kotok, this mainframe computer was the cornerstone of the AI lab, with its gorgeous instruction set and sixteen sexy registers.

Tom Pittman. The religious Homebrew hacker who lost his wife but kept the faith with his Tiny BASIC.

Ed Roberts. Enigmatic founder of MITS company who shook the world with his Altair computer. He wanted to help people build mental pyramids.

Steve (Slug) Russell. McCarthy’s “coolie” who hacked the Spacewar program, first videogame, on the PDP-1. Never made a dime from it.

Peter Samson. MIT hacker (one of the first), who loved systems, trains, TX-0, music, parliamentary procedure, pranks, and hacking.

Bob Saunders. Jolly, balding TMRC hacker who married early, hacked til late at night eating “lemon gunkies,” and mastered the “CBS strategy” on Spacewar.

Warren Schwader. Big blond hacker from rural Wisconsin who went from the assembly line to software stardom, but couldn’t reconcile the shift with his devotion to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

David Silver. Left school at fourteen to be mascot of AI lab; maker of illicit keys and builder of a tiny robot that did the impossible.

Dan Sokol. Long-haired prankster who reveled in revealing technological secrets at Homebrew Club. Helped “liberate” Altair BASIC program on paper tape.

Sol Computer. Lee Felsenstein’s terminal-and-computer, built in two frantic months, almost the computer that turned things around. Almost wasn’t enough.

Les Solomon. Editor of Popular Electronics, the puller of strings who set the computer revolution into motion.

Marty Spergel. The Junk Man, the Homebrew member who supplied circuits and cables and could make you a deal for anything.

Richard Stallman. The Last of the Hackers, he vowed to defend the principles of hackerism to the bitter end. Remained at MIT until there was no one to eat Chinese food with.

Jeff Stephenson. Thirty-year-old martial arts veteran and hacker who was astounded that joining Sierra On-Line meant enrolling in Summer Camp.

Jay Sullivan. Maddeningly calm wizard-level programmer at Informatics who impressed Ken Williams by knowing the meaning of the word “any.”

Dick Sunderland. Chalk-complexioned MBA who believed that firm managerial bureaucracy was a worthy goal, but as president of Sierra On-Line found that hackers didn’t think that way.

Gerry Sussman. Young MIT hacker branded “loser” because he smoked a pipe and “munged” his programs; later became “winner” by algorithmic magic.

Margot Tommervik. With her husband Al, long-haired Margot parlayed her gameshow winnings into a magazine that deified the Apple Computer.

Tom Swift Terminal. Lee Felsenstein’s legendary, never-to-be-built computer terminal, which would give the user ultimate leave to get his hands on the world.

TX-0. Filled a small room, but in the late fifties, this $3 million machine was world’s first personal computer—for the community of MIT hackers that formed around it.

Jim Warren. Portly purveyor of “techno-gossip” at Homebrew, he was first editor of hippie-styled Dr. Dobbs Journal, later started the lucrative Computer Faire.

Randy Wigginton. Fifteen-year-old member of Steve Wozniak’s kiddie corps, he helped Woz trundle the Apple II to Homebrew. Still in high school when he became Apple’s first software employee.

Ken Williams. Arrogant and brilliant young programmer who saw the writing on the CRT and started Sierra On-Line to make a killing and improve society by selling games for the Apple computer.

Roberta Williams. Ken Williams’ timid wife who rediscovered her own creativity by writing Mystery House, the first of her many bestselling computer games.

Stephen “Woz” Wozniak. Openhearted, technologically daring hardware hacker from San Jose suburbs, Woz built the Apple Computer for the pleasure of himself and friends.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required