The book provides an interesting view of the history and growth of computers, seeing through the eyes of the hackers; the somewhat elusive group of people that have never cared much for contention, have pushed the limits of both computing hardware and software, and have at the same time engage in headed and headstrong arguments about computers, hardware and software.
The book discusses three main groups of hackers, representing the early era’s of modern computing. The first were the group of mainframe hackers bases at MIT in the 50’s an 60’s, using computing time on the hulking mainframes, trying to get the monolithic batch-processing machines to bend to their will.
The second group were the so-called hardware hackers; a group of hardware junkies at Berkeley, figuring out how to assemble pieces hardware to create their own working computers in the 70’s. This was the days of Alteir, the beginning of Intel and Steve Wozniak (who created the original Apple and Apple II).
The final group focuses largely on computer games; an industry which sprung up in the 80’s with the proliferation of arcade games, and the mass movement of computers into people’s homes.
While the book is not specifically written for computer junkies, it is far more interesting for the hackers (or at least want-to-be hackers) out there. Somebody without a passionate interest in computers or programming would probably get a little board with the level of detail.
However, for those like me who work the field, it is a fascinating story of some eccentric people that literally shaped the computing world as we know it today. While there is a strong focus on the development of Apple, and the gaming world for the Apple (at least in the second half), there is very little mention of the IBM/Microsoft route, and the development of applications and games for the so-called PC world. This almost reflects the modern Apple/PC divide.
While at times I find the book little verbose, it is nonetheless a fascinating story. The edition I read was a 25’th anniversary edition of the book, which was originally published in 1985, a testimony to the longevity of the book. Well worth reading.
Thanks to the folks at O’Reilly for the review copy.