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8. The Great Web Explosion

The early growth of Linux synergized with another phenomenon: the public discovery of the Internet. The early 1990s also saw the beginnings of a flourishing Internet-provider industry, selling connectivity to the public for a few dollars a month. Following the invention of the World-Wide Web, the Internet's already-rapid growth accelerated to a breakneck pace.

By 1994, the year Berkeley's Unix development group formally shut down, several different free Unix versions (Linux and the descendants of 386BSD) served as the major focal points of hacking activity. Linux was being distributed commercially on CD-ROM and selling like hotcakes. By the end of 1995, major computer companies were beginning to take out glossy advertisements celebrating the Internet-friendliness of their software and hardware!

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.

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