The True History of Hacking

First came the “real programmers.” They didn’t call themselves “hackers” or anything else. The nickname “real programmer” itself was formed in the 80s. 

But it all started in 1945 when the idea of a computer attracted the best minds of mankind. Since the appearance of the world’s first ENIAC computer, the technical culture of enthusiastic programmers has been developing more or less consistently. 

The “real programmers” came from engineering and physical sciences. They are still thought of as people in white coats and thick glasses, programming in FORTRAN and other now forgotten languages. They were the forerunners of hackers.

Since the end of the Second World War and up to the early seventies, these people have been the basis of technical culture in the field of computer technology. It is from this era that many works of hacker folklore date, including Murphy’s Laws and other revered creations.

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How did the era of hacking start?

The beginning of the era of hacking can now be considered in 1961 when MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) acquired its first computer. They adopted the machine as a favorite technical “toy” and invented programming tools, jargon, and culture in general, traces of which can be found to this day.

Hacking history

The MIT computer culture first coined the term “hacker.” It should be noted that MIT was not the only center of advanced computer thought, besides it was the artificial intelligence laboratory of Stanford University. Both of these laboratories brought together the smartest people who made a huge contribution to the development of hacking, technically and culturally.

Speaking about the development of hacking, we should also talk about ARPANET, the first high-speed continental computer network created by order of the U.S. Department of Defense. Later, this network connected hundreds of universities and research laboratories, which gave rise to a wide exchange of information and prompted joint research in the field of computer technology. ARPANET’s electronic highways connected enthusiastic programmers across the country, which allowed them to overcome fragmentation and realize themselves as a special group.

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The second stage

The next important point in the development of hacker culture was the famous Palo Alto Research Center. For more than ten years, from the early 70s to the mid-80s, it became a “forge” of advanced ideas and technologies. The modern mouse, Windows, icons for software, and laser printers — all these things were invented here. This research center has made a huge contribution to the development of hacking.

In addition to ARPANET, 1969 also brought the invention of the Unix system by Ken Thompson, a programmer from Bell Labs. Another computer scientist Dennis Ritchie invented a new programming language “C” for use under Unix, which was in development. 

The idea of creating software products that are convenient and flexible in operation was highly appreciated. Thomson and Ritchie were the first to realize that computer technology had reached a high enough level to be able to write an entire operating system in “C” and not create new software every time the previous one turned out to be outdated. 

This invention made it possible to create unified software for various types of computers, which, in turn, allowed programmers to exchange programming tools between computers of different types and not engage in “inventing the bicycle every time.” In addition, Unix and “C” were very easy to handle, so there was no need to constantly refer to reference books, which greatly facilitated the work.

Thanks to the above qualities, by 1980 these software products were widely distributed among universities, research institutes and, of course, among hackers. In ARPANET, Unix and “C” were also widely known. Any two computers equipped with Unix could exchange email over telephone lines, so in 1980 the first divisions of the Usenet network were created, which soon eclipsed ARPANET.

It is interesting to see how the relationship developed between the first generation of hackers and those who preferred Unix. After the appearance of Unix sites in ARPANET, these two hacker cultures began to gradually mix. At first, this process was quite difficult — Unix hackers were thought of as a group of upstarts using primitive tools in their activities, which were jokingly called “stone knives and bear skins.”

The history of hackers

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The third stage

In 1975, the first personal computers appeared on the market, and in the following years, their rapid improvement began. The capabilities of microcomputers were well understood, and that’s what attracted a new generation of hackers to them. Their programming language became Basic, which hackers who worked with Unix, and even more so the “real programmers,” considered primitive and despised.

This was the state of affairs in 1980: three similar, but at the same time, technically different cultures developed side by side. This situation did not last long, and hackers who grew up on ARPANET were the first to suffer. In 1983, NEC Corporation decided to focus its efforts on Unix systems, thereby ending its support of users and developers of older computer equipment.

Unix hackers had a different future. In 1982, their Berkeley group founded Sun Microsystems. In their activities, they focused on the fact that the workstations they created, although expensive for the average user, were quite affordable for corporations and universities. 

Thanks to this, they have become so widespread. Workstations created by Sun and other manufacturers have opened up new horizons for hackers. These machines were designed to work with high-speed graphics and to share data over a network. Throughout the 80s, the attention of all hacking was absorbed in the creation of software tools to use the above advantages of workstations.

When Unix became a commercial product in 1984, there were contradictions in the ranks of hackers between the relatively interconnected “networked nation,” which united around the Internet and Usenet (and for the most part used minicomputers or workstations running Unix), and the vast but disparate brotherhood of fans of “personal computers.” 

With the onset of the 90s, the positions of workstations were significantly weakened by the appearance of new cheap and high-performance personal computers based on 386 Intel processors. For the first time, lone hackers were able to afford to have home computers that supported Unix and an internet connection.

The pace of technological progress turned out to be so rapid that fifty different technical cultures appeared and disappeared like moths. They failed to create their jargon, folklore, and history. In addition, they did not have a network, except for some experimental ones that did not receive a distribution.

Hackers history

The transformation of Unix into a commercial product has made it inaccessible. The way out of this situation was the development of a new Linux operating system by Linus Torvalds, a student at the University of Helsinki, based on the Unix kernel for 386 computers. 

Moreover, the initiative to create such a software product was supported by hackers around the world, and many of them took an active part in its development. The work was organized according to a flexible scheme: Linux releases available to everyone were released every week, and at the same time the process of reviewing user suggestions and ideas was underway. The most interesting and viable of them were selected, which led to the high quality of this software product. 

The result of these efforts was that by 1993 Linux was able to compete in reliability with commercial versions of Unix. By creating Linux, hackers refuted the opinion that such a complex software product as an operating system could only be created by a small and well-organized group of specialists. This had a huge psychological impact, and for the first time, hackers were able to have a real impact on the state of the software market.


Summing up, it should be recognized that the main trend of hackers has formed around the Internet and is still largely associated with the Unix technical culture. 

Thanks to the popularity of the global network, hackers have the opportunity to defend their interests, an example of this is their victory in the dispute over the introduction of censorship on the internet, which clearly indicates their influence.

Now, everyone agrees that the internet and computer technologies will have a strong impact on the development of mankind in the 21st century. In this situation, the culture of hackers, their folklore, traditions, and relationships become part of the common cultural heritage of mankind. And the future of hackers looks bright.


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