Linux.com: The Days Before GNU

“The date is April 16, 1971, and the place is MIT, Project MAC. Abhay K. Bhushan releases RFC 114: “A File Transfer Protocol.” For his protocol, he has defined that the head of each transaction should be 72 bits although the data is only 48 bits. He didn’t select 72 by pure coincidence. He selected 72 because it would allow the information to appear at convenient word boundaries on machines with different word lengths (6, 8, 9, 12, …).”

“There was never any doubt to him that everyone should be able to use the protocol and use it to spread information across all computers. Some ten years later, Richard M. Stallman called upon Xerox to get the specifications for a new laser printer that had been delivered to MIT. Not only did they refuse to give him the specification, but they also greedily fought to preserve their secrets by asking people to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements when they learned parts of the protocol. Stallman never did get that specification.”

In only ten years, possibly much shorter, the software world changed from being a cooperative place where everyone freely shared information, to being a hostile place where protocols and specifications were guarded jealously by their inventors in fear of them being divulged onto competing companies.

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