Revenge of the Hackers

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$Date: 2002/08/02 09:02:15 $

Revision History
Revision 1.926 August 2000esr
DocBook conversion.
Revision 1.831 Aug 1999esr
This version went into the first printed edition.


The eruption of open-source software into the mainstream in 1998 was the revenge of the hackers after 20 years of marginalization. I found myself semi-accidentally cast as chief rabble-rouser and propagandist. In this essay, I describe the tumultuous year that followed, focusing on the media stategy and language we used to break through to the Fortune 500. I finish with a look at where the trend curves are going.

Table of Contents

Revenge of the Hackers
Beyond Brooks's Law
Memes and Mythmaking
The Road to Mountain View
The Origins of `Open Source'
1. Forget Bottom-Up; Work on Top-Down
2. Linux is Our Best Demonstration Case
3. Capture the Fortune 500
4. Co-opt the Prestige Media that Serve the Fortune 500
5. Educate Hackers in Guerrilla Marketing Tactics
6. Use the Open Source Certification Mark to Keep Things Pure
The Accidental Revolutionary
Phases of the Campaign
The Facts on the Ground
Into the Future

I wrote the first version of A Brief History of Hackerdom in 1996 as a web resource. I had been fascinated by hacker culture as a culture for many years, since long before I edited the first edition of The New Hacker's Dictionary in 1990. By late 1993, many people (including myself) had come to think of me as the hacker culture's tribal historian and resident ethnographer. I was comfortable in that role.

At that time, I had not the faintest idea that my amateur anthropologizing could itself become a significant catalyst for change. I think nobody was more surprised than I when that happened. But the consequences of that surprise are still reverberating through the hacker culture and the technology and business worlds today.

In this essay, I'll recapitulate from my personal point of view the events that immediately led up to the January 1998 ``shot heard 'round the world'' of the open-source revolution. I'll reflect on the remarkable distance we've come since. Then I will tentatively offer some projections into the future.