A little bit of history from Eric’s ‘mouth’ in ‘A Brief History of Hackerdom’:
Hackers from this subculture tend to emphatically differentiate themselves from what they pejoratively call “crackers“; those who are generally referred to by media and members of the general public using the term “hacker”, and whose primary focus — be it to malign or benevolent purposes — lies in exploiting weaknesses in computer security.
In the beginning, there were Real Programmers.
That’s not what they called themselves. They didn’t call themselves `hackers’, either, or anything in particular; the sobriquet `Real Programmer’ wasn’t coined until after 1980, retrospectively by one of their own. But from 1945 onward, the technology of computing attracted many of the world’s brightest and most creative minds. From Eckert & Mauchly’s first ENIAC computer onward there was a more or less continuous and self-conscious technical culture of enthusiast programmers, people who built and played with software for fun.
The beginnings of the hacker culture as we know it today can be conveniently dated to 1961, the year MIT acquired the first PDP-1. The Signals and Power committee of MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club adopted the machine as their favorite tech-toy and invented programming tools, slang, and an entire surrounding culture that is still recognizably with us today. These early years have been examined in the first part of Steven Levy’s book Hackers [Levy] .
MIT’s computer culture seems to have been the first to adopt the term `hacker’. The Tech Model Railroad Club’s hackers became the nucleus of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the world’s leading center of AI research into the early 1980s. Their influence was spread far wider after 1969, the first year of the ARPANET.
In the late 1990s the central activities of hackerdom became Linux development and the mainstreaming of the Internet. The World Wide Web has at last made the Internet into a mass medium, and many of the hackers of the 1980s and early 1990s launched Internet Service Providers selling or giving access to the masses.
The mainstreaming of the Internet even brought the hacker culture the beginnings of respectability and political clout. In 1994 and 1995 hacker activism scuppered the Clipper proposal which would have put strong encryption under government control. In 1996 hackers mobilized a broad coalition to defeat the misnamed “Communications Decency Act” and prevent censorship of the Internet.
With the CDA victory, we pass out of history into current events. We also pass into a period in which your historian (rather to his own surprise) became an actor rather than just an observer. This narrative will continue in Revenge of the Hackers.