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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic History of Computing, 29 Aug 2003
This review is from: Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (Paperback)
A hack: a neat or smart way of fixing or implementing something. This definition was in use in MIT in the late fifties in the MIT Tech Railroad Club where young engineers would devise ways of controlling their large model layout. Also in MIT were some of the first large computers and these young men (pretty exclusively so) were drawn to these behemoths like bugs to a flame. Hours were spent writing and debugging code. It wasn't easy going at the start as some of these machines had no i/o devices such as monitors, but these young men were bitten by the bug and became devoted to the cause.
The first section of the book describes the rise of the original computer hacker, and the Hacker Ethos that came with it. Software was free to all, and if you make an improvement to someone elses code, you were welcome to do so. But these young people were a priviledged few as hacking was limited to those with access to these college machines.
In the second part of the book, based mainly in the seventies, we see hacking being applied to hardware and the creation of the first home computers. The first was the Altair, which had no keyboard, but spread like wildfire. People spent ages writing programs for it and explored all it's possibilities. It's here that we meet Bill Gates, a young programmer asked to write a BASIC compiler for the machine. The hacker ethos of software being free for all didn't sit well with Mr. Gates and he wrote a letter to a popular computing magazine at the time, explaining that since he wrote the code, wasn't he entitled to some payment. Mr Gates doesn't really appear again, but that small glimpse of him seems so true.
At this time a club for computing afficionados, the Homebrew club came into existence and here many of the best and brightest would converse for ages, swapping ideas and experience. Among them was Steve Wozniak, who would create the first Apple and truly bring computing to the masses.
The third section of the book moves back to software, and the companies that sprang up in the eighties to provide games and utilities for the home computer user. In this section, the abandonment of the hacker ethos becomes clear. Companies, such as Sierra, were founded by hackers, but in order to grow and develop, something had to be left behind, and one such thing was the belief in free software.
This is a great book covering three influential sections of computing history. The descriptions of the people involved are highly captivating and it is hard to put this book down. If you remember the first apples, ataris and the apple mac, and how glamorous and liberating they were at the time, this book fills you in on all the details that went into constructing these revolutionary machines, and how they were shaped by the people behind them. If you have any interest at all in computing history, then this is a must read book.
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