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question" without wondering what Mitch might think --
and say -- and tell his friends.
The EFF had simply *networked* the situation into
an entirely new status quo. And in fact this had been EFF's
deliberate strategy from the beginning. Both Barlow and
Kapor loathed bureaucracies and had deliberately chosen
to work almost entirely through the electronic spiderweb
of "valuable personal contacts."
After a year of EFF, both Barlow and Kapor had every
reason to look back with satisfaction. EFF had established
its own Internet node, "eff.org," with a well-stocked
electronic archive of documents on electronic civil rights,
privacy issues, and academic freedom. EFF was also
publishing *EFFector,* a quarterly printed journal, as
as *EFFector Online,* an electronic newsletter with over
1,200 subscribers. And EFF was thriving on the Well.
EFF had a national headquarters in Cambridge and
a full-time staff. It had become a membership
organization and was attracting grass-roots support. It
had also attracted the support of some thirty civil-rights
lawyers, ready and eager to do pro bono work in defense of
the Constitution in Cyberspace.
EFF had lobbied successfully in Washington and in
Massachusetts to change state and federal legislation on
computer networking. Kapor in particular had become a
veteran expert witness, and had joined the Computer
Science and Telecommunications Board of the National
Academy of Science and Engineering.
EFF had sponsored meetings such as "Computers,
Freedom and Privacy" and the CPSъ ъoundtable. It had
carried out a press offensive that, in the words of
*EFFector,* "has affected the climate of opinion about
computer networking and begun to reverse the slide into
'hacker hysteria' that was beginning to grip the nation."
It had helped Craig Neidorf avoid prison.
And, last but certainly not least, the Electronic
Frontier Foundation had filed a federal lawsuit in the
name of Steve Jackson, Steve Jackson Games Inc., and
three users of the Illuminati bulletin board system. The
defendants were, and are, the United States Secret
Service, William Cook, Tim Foley, Barbara Golden and
The case, which is in pre-trial procedures in an Austin
federal court as of this writing, is a civil action for
to redress alleged violations of the First and Fourth
Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as
the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (42 USC 2000aa et seq.),
and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (18 USC
2510 et seq and 2701 et seq).
EFF had established that it had credibility. It had
also established that it had teeth.
In the fall of 1991 I travelled to Massachusetts to
speak personally with Mitch Kapor. It was my final
interview for this book.
The city of Boston has always been one of the major
intellectual centers of the American republic. It is a very
old city by American standards, a place of skyscrapers
overshadowing seventeenth-century graveyards, where
the high-tech start-up companies of ъoute 128 co-exist
with the hand-wrought pre-industrial grace of "Old
Ironsides," the USS *Constitution.*
The Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the first and
bitterest armed clashes of the American ъevolution, was
fought in Boston's environs. Today there is a
monumental spire on Bunker Hill, visible throughout
much of the city. The willingness of the republican
revolutionaries to take up arms and fire on their
oppressors has left a cultural legacy that two full
have not effaced. Bunker Hill is still a potent center of
American political symbolism, and the Spirit of '76 is
potent image for those who seek to mold public opinion.
Of course, not everyone who wraps himself in the flag
is necessarily a patriot. When I visited the spire in
September 1991, it bore a huge, badly-erased, spray-can
grafitto around its bottom reading "BъITS OUT -- IъA
PъOVOS." Inside this hallowed edifice was a glass-cased
diorama of thousands of tiny toy soldiers, rebels and
redcoats, fighting and dying over the green hill, the
riverside marshes, the rebel trenchworks. Plaques
indicated the movement of troops, the shiftings of
strategy. The Bunker Hill Monument is occupied at its
very center by the toy soldiers of a military war-game
The Boston metroplex is a place of great universities,
prominent among the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, where the term "computer hacker" was first
coined. The Hacker Crackdown of 1990 might be
interpreted as a political struggle among American cities:
traditional strongholds of longhair intellectual liberalism,
such as Boston, San Francisco, and Austin, versus the
bare-knuckle industrial pragmatism of Chicago and
Phoenix (with Atlanta and New York wrapped in internal
The headquarters of the Electronic Frontier
Foundation is on 155 Second Street in Cambridge, a
Bostonian suburb north of the ъiver Charles. Second
Street has weedy sidewalks of dented, sagging brick and
elderly cracked asphalt; large street-signs warn "NO
PAъKING DUъING DECLAъED SNOW
EMEъGENCY." This is an old area of modest
manufacturing industries; the EFF is catecorner from the
Greene ъubber Company. EFF's building is two stories of
red brick; its large wooden windows feature gracefully
arched tops and stone sills.
The glass window beside the Second Street entrance
bears three sheets of neatly laser-printed paper, taped
against the glass. They read: ON Technology. EFF. KEI.
"ON Technology" is Kapor's software company, which
currently specializes in "groupware" for the Apple
Macintosh computer. "Groupware" is intended to
promote efficient social interaction among office-workers
linked by computers. ON Technology's most successful
software products to date are "Meeting Maker" and
"KEI" is Kapor Enterprises Inc., Kapor's personal
holding company, the commercial entity that formally
controls his extensive investments in other hardware and
"EFF" is a political action group -- of a special sort.
Inside, someone's bike has been chained to the
handrails of a modest flight of stairs. A wall of modish
glass brick separates this anteroom from the offices.
Beyond the brick, there's an alarm system mounted on
the wall, a sleek, complex little number that resembles a
cross between a thermostat and a CD player. Piled
against the wall are box after box of a recent special issue
of *Scientific American,* "How to Work, Play, and Thrive
in Cyberspace," with extensive coverage of electronic
networking techniques and political issues, including an
article by Kapor himself. These boxes are addressed to
Gerard Van der Leun, EFF's Director of Communications,
who will shortly mail those magazines to every member of
The joint headquarters of EFF, KEI, and ON
Technology, which Kapor currently rents, is a modestly
bustling place. It's very much the same physical size as
Steve Jackson's gaming company. It's certainly a far cry
from the gigantic gray steel-sided railway shipping barn,
on the Monsignor O'Brien Highway, that is owned by
Lotus Development Corporation.
Lotus is, of course, the software giant that Mitchell
Kapor founded in the late 70s. The software program
Kapor co-authored, "Lotus 1-2-3," is still that company's
most profitable product. "Lotus 1-2-3" also bears a
singular distinction in the digital underground: it's
probably the most pirated piece of application software in
Kapor greets me cordially in his own office, down a
hall. Kapor, whose name is pronounced KAY-por, is in his
early forties, married and the father of two. He has a
round face, high forehead, straight nose, a slightly tousled
mop of black hair peppered with gray. His large brown
eyes are wideset, reflective, one might almost say soulful.
He disdains ties, and commonly wears Hawaiian shirts
and tropical prints, not so much garish as simply cheerful
and just that little bit anomalous.
There is just the whiff of hacker brimstone about
Mitch Kapor. He may not have the hard-riding, hell-for-
leather, guitar-strumming charisma of his Wyoming
colleague John Perry Barlow, but there's something about
the guy that still stops one short. He has the air of the
Eastern city dude in the bowler hat, the dreamy,
Longfellow-quoting poker shark who only *happens* to
know the exact mathematical odds against drawing to an
inside straight. Even among his computer-community
colleagues, who are hardly known for mental sluggishness,
Kapor strikes one forcefully as a very intelligent man. He
speaks rapidly, with vigorous gestures, his Boston accent
sometimes slipping to the sharp nasal tang of his youth in
Kapor, whose Kapor Family Foundation does much
of his philanthropic work, is a strong supporter of Boston's
Computer Museum. Kapor's interest in the history of his
industry has brought him some remarkable curios, such
as the "byte" just outside his office door. This "byte" --
eight digital bits -- has been salvaged from the wreck of an
electronic computer of the pre-transistor age. It's a
standing gunmetal rack about the size of a small toaster-
oven: with eight slots of hand-soldered breadboarding
featuring thumb-sized vacuum tubes. If it fell off a table
could easily break your foot, but it was state-of-the-art
computation in the 1940s. (It would take exactly 157,184
these primordial toasters to hold the first part of this
There's also a coiling, multicolored, scaly dragon that
some inspired techno-punk artist has cobbled up entirely
out of transistors, capacitors, and brightly plastic-coated
Inside the office, Kapor excuses himself briefly to do
a little mouse-whizzing housekeeping on his personal
Macintosh IIfx. If its giant screen were an open window,
an agile person could climb through it without much
trouble at all. There's a coffee-cup at Kapor's elbow, a
memento of his recent trip to Eastern Europe, which has a
black-and-white stencilled photo and the legend
CAPITALIST FOOLS TOUъ. It's Kapor, Barlow, and two
California venture-capitalist luminaries of their
acquaintance, four windblown, grinning Baby Boomer
dudes in leather jackets, boots, denim, travel bags,
standing on airport tarmac somewhere behind the
formerly Iron Curtain. They look as if they're having the
absolute time of their lives.
Kapor is in a reminiscent mood. We talk a bit about
his youth -- high school days as a "math nerd," Saturdays
attending Columbia University's high-school science
honors program, where he had his first experience
programming computers. IBM 1620s, in 1965 and '66. "I
was very interested," says Kapor, "and then I went off to
college and got distracted by drugs sex and rock and roll,
like anybody with half a brain would have then!" After
college he was a progressive-rock DJ in Hartford,
Connecticut, for a couple of years.
I ask him if he ever misses his rock and roll days --
he ever wished he could go back to radio work.
He shakes his head flatly. "I stopped thinking about
going back to be a DJ the day after Altamont."
Kapor moved to Boston in 1974 and got a job
programming mainframes in COBOL. He hated it. He
quit and became a teacher of transcendental meditation.
(It was Kapor's long flirtation with Eastern mysticism that
gave the world "Lotus.")
In 1976 Kapor went to Switzerland, where the
Transcendental Meditation movement had rented a
gigantic Victorian hotel in St-Moritz. It was an all-male
group -- a hundred and twenty of them -- determined
upon Enlightenment or Bust. Kapor had given the
transcendant his best shot. He was becoming
disenchanted by "the nuttiness in the organization." "They
were teaching people to levitate," he says, staring at the
floor. His voice drops an octave, becomes flat. "*They
Kapor chose Bust. He went back to the States and
acquired a degree in counselling psychology. He worked a
while in a hospital, couldn't stand that either. "My rep
was," he says "a very bright kid with a lot of potential
hasn't found himself. Almost thirty. Sort of lost."
Kapor was unemployed when he bought his first
personal computer -- an Apple II. He sold his stereo to
raise cash and drove to New Hampshire to avoid the sales
"The day after I purchased it," Kapor tells me, "I was
hanging out in a computer store and I saw another guy, a
man in his forties, well-dressed guy, and eavesdropped on
his conversation with the salesman. He didn't know
anything about computers. I'd had a year programming.
And I could program in BASIC. I'd taught myself. So I
went up to him, and I actually sold myself to him as a
consultant." He pauses. "I don't know where I got the
nerve to do this. It was uncharacteristic. I just said, 'I
I can help you, I've been listening, this is what you need
do and I think I can do it for you.' And he took me on! He
was my first client! I became a computer consultant the
first day after I bought the Apple II."
Kapor had found his true vocation. He attracted
more clients for his consultant service, and started an
Apple users' group.
A friend of Kapor's, Eric ъosenfeld, a graduate
student at MIT, had a problem. He was doing a thesis on
an arcane form of financial statistics, but could not wedge
himself into the crowded queue for time on MIT's
mainframes. (One might note at this point that if Mr.
ъosenfeld had dishonestly broken into the MIT
mainframes, Kapor himself might have never invented
Lotus 1-2-3 and the PC business might have been set back
for years!) Eric ъosenfeld did have an Apple II, however,
and he thought it might be possible to scale the problem
down. Kapor, as favor, wrote a program for him in BASIC
that did the job.
It then occurred to the two of them, out of the blue,
that it might be possible to *sell* this program. They
marketed it themselves, in plastic baggies, for about a
hundred bucks a pop, mail order. "This was a total
cottage industry by a marginal consultant," Kapor says
proudly. "That's how I got started, honest to God."
ъosenfeld, who later became a very prominent figure
on Wall Street, urged Kapor to go to MIT's business
school for an MBA. Kapor did seven months there, but
never got his MBA. He picked up some useful tools --
mainly a firm grasp of the principles of accounting -- and,
in his own words, "learned to talk MBA." Then he
dropped out and went to Silicon Valley.
The inventors of VisiCalc, the Apple computer's
premier business program, had shown an interest in
Mitch Kapor. Kapor worked diligently for them for six
months, got tired of California, and went back to Boston
where they had better bookstores. The VisiCalc group
had made the critical error of bringing in "professional
management." "That drove them into the ground," Kapor
"Yeah, you don't hear a lot about VisiCalc these days,"
Kapor looks surprised. "Well, Lotus.... we *bought*
"Oh. You *bought* it?"
"Sort of like the Bell System buying Western Union?"
Kapor grins. "Yep! Yep! Yeah, exactly!"
Mitch Kapor was not in full command of the destiny
of himself or his industry. The hottest software
commodities of the early 1980s were *computer games* --
the Atari seemed destined to enter every teenage home in
America. Kapor got into business software simply
because he didn't have any particular feeling for
computer games. But he was supremely fast on his feet,
open to new ideas and inclined to trust his instincts. And
his instincts were good. He chose good people to deal with
-- gifted programmer Jonathan Sachs (the co-author of
Lotus 1-2-3). Financial wizard Eric ъosenfeld, canny Wall
Street analyst and venture capitalist Ben ъosen. Kapor
was the founder and CEO of Lotus, one of the most
spectacularly successful business ventures of the later
He is now an extremely wealthy man. I ask him if he
actually knows how much money he has.
"Yeah," he says. "Within a percent or two."
How much does he actually have, then?
He shakes his head. "A lot. A lot. Not something I
talk about. Issues of money and class are things that cut
pretty close to the bone."
I don't pry. It's beside the point. One might
presume, impolitely, that Kapor has at least forty million -
that's what he got the year he left Lotus. People who ought
to know claim Kapor has about a hundred and fifty
million, give or take a market swing in his stock holdings.
If Kapor had stuck with Lotus, as his colleague friend and
rival Bill Gates has stuck with his own software start-up,
Microsoft, then Kapor would likely have much the same
fortune Gates has -- somewhere in the neighborhood of
three billion, give or take a few hundred million. Mitch
Kapor has all the money he wants. Money has lost
whatever charm it ever held for him -- probably not much
in the first place. When Lotus became too uptight, too
bureaucratic, too far from the true sources of his own
satisfaction, Kapor walked. He simply severed all
connections with the company and went out the door. It
stunned everyone -- except those who knew him best.
Kapor has not had to strain his resources to wreak a
thorough transformation in cyberspace politics. In its
year, EFF's budget was about a quarter of a million dollars.
Kapor is running EFF out of his pocket change.
Kapor takes pains to tell me that he does not
consider himself a civil libertarian per se. He has spent
quite some time with true-blue civil libertarians lately,
there's a political-correctness to them that bugs him. They
seem to him to spend entirely too much time in legal
nitpicking and not enough vigorously exercising civil
rights in the everyday real world.
Kapor is an entrepreneur. Like all hackers, he
prefers his involvements direct, personal, and hands-on.
"The fact that EFF has a node on the Internet is a great
thing. We're a publisher. We're a distributor of
information." Among the items the eff.org Internet node
carries is back issues of *Phrack.* They had an internal
debate about that in EFF, and finally decided to take the
plunge. They might carry other digital underground
publications -- but if they do, he says, "we'll certainly
Donn Parker, and anything Gail Thackeray wants to put
up. We'll turn it into a public library, that has the whole
spectrum of use. Evolve in the direction of people making
up their own minds." He grins. "We'll try to label all the
Kapor is determined to tackle the technicalities of
the Internet in the service of the public interest. "The
problem with being a node on the Net today is that you've
got to have a captive technical specialist. We have Chris
Davis around, for the care and feeding of the balky beast!
We couldn't do it ourselves!"
He pauses. "So one direction in which technology has
to evolve is much more standardized units, that a non-
technical person can feel comfortable with. It's the same
shift as from minicomputers to PCs. I can see a future in
which any person can have a Node on the Net. Any
person can be a publisher. It's better than the media we
now have. It's possible. We're working activ