While some tenets of hacker ethic were described in other texts like Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974) by Theodor Nelson, Levy appears to have been the first to document and historicize both the philosophy and the founders of the philosophy.
In addition to those principles listed above, Levy also described more specific hacker ethics and beliefs in chapter 2, The Hacker Ethic. The ethics he described in chapter 2 are quoted here.
- Access to computers—and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works—should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!
- All information should be free.
- Mistrust Authority—Promote Decentralization.
- Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
- You can create art and beauty on a computer.
- Computers can change your life for the better.
If the hack was particularly good, then the program might be posted on a board somewhere near one of the computers. Other programs that could be built upon and improved were saved to tapes and added to a drawer of programs - readily accessible to all the other hackers. At any time, a fellow hacker might reach into the drawer, pick out the program, and begin adding to it or "bumming" it to make it better (bumming refers to the process of making the code more concise so that more can be done in fewer instructions).
In the second generation of hackers, sharing was about sharing with the general public in addition to sharing with other hackers. A particular organization of hackers that was concerned with sharing computers with the general public was a group called Community Memory. This group of hackers and idealists put computers in public places for anyone to use. The first community computer was placed outside of Leopold's Records in Berkeley, California.
Another sharing of resources occurred when Bob Albrecht provided considerable resources for a non-profit organization called People's Computer Company (PCC). PCC opened a computer center where anyone could use the computers there for fifty cents an hour.
It was also the sharing of this second generation that resulted in some of the battles over free and open software. In fact, when Bill Gates' version of BASIC for the Altair was 'shared' among the hacker community, Gates lost a considerable sum of money because no one was paying for the software. As a result, Gates wrote an Open Letter to Hobbyists. This letter was published by several computer magazines and newsletters - most notably that of the Homebrew Computer Club where much of the sharing occurred.
Employing the Hands-On Imperative requires free access, open information, and the sharing of knowledge. To a true hacker, if the Hands-On Imperative is restricted, then the ends justify the means to make it unrestricted so that improvements can be made. When these principles are not present, hackers tend to work around them. For example, when the computers at MIT were protected either by physical locks or login programs, the hackers there systematically worked around them in order to have access to the machines.
It is important to note that this behavior was not malicious in nature - the MIT hackers did not seek to harm the systems or their users (although, every now and then, some practical jokes were played using the computer systems). This deeply contrasts with the modern, media-encouraged image of hackers who crack secure systems in order to steal information or complete an act of cybervandalism.
The concept of community and collaboration is still relevant today, although hackers are no longer limited to collaboration in geographic regions. Now collaboration takes place via the Internet. Eric S. Raymond identifies and explains this concept shift in The Cathedral and the Bazaar.
Before cheap Internet, there were some geographically compact communities where the culture encouraged Weinberg's egoless programming, and a developer could easily attract a lot of skilled kibitzers and co-developers. Bell Labs, the MIT AI and LCS labs, UC Berkeley—these became the home of innovations that are legendary and still potent.
Raymond also points-out that the success of Linux coincided with the wide-availability of the world wide web. No doubt the collaboration and development community fostered by the web was key to the successful development of Linux. The value of community is still in high practice and use today.
Levy also identified the "hardware hackers" (the "second generation", mostly centered in Silicon Valley) and the "game hackers" (or the "third generation"). All three generations of hackers, according to Levy, embodied the principles of the hacker ethic.
Some Levy's "second generation" hackers include:
Levy's "third generation" practitioners of hacker ethic include:
While it might be convenient to label the current shared values of hackers as the "New Hacker Ethic", this type of identification implies a radical shift in hacker ethic. While the nature of hacker activity has evolved due to the availability of new technologies (for example, the mainstreaming of the personal computer or the social connectivity of the internet), the hacker ethics - particularly those of access, sharing, and community - remain the same.
For Himanen (who wrote "The Hacker Ethic"), Torvalds (prologue), and Castells (epilogue), the hacker ethic centers around passion, hard work, creativity and joy in creating software. Both Himanen and Torvalds were inspired by the Sampo Finnish mythology. The Sampo, described in the Kalevala, was a magical artifact constructed by Ilmarinen, the blacksmith god, that brought good fortune to its holder; nobody knows exactly what it was supposed to be. The Sampo has been interpreted in many ways: a world pillar or world tree, a compass or astrolabe, a chest containing a treasure, a Byzantine coin die, a decorated Vendel period shield, a Christian relic, etc. In the Kalevala, compiler Lönnrot interpreted it to be a quern or mill of some sort that made flour, salt, and gold out of thin air.