To solve the problem, Stallman, Steele, and fellow hackers David Moon and Dan Weinreib limited their standardization effort to the WYSIWYG commands that controlled how text appeared on-screen. The rest of the Emacs effort would be devoted to retaining the program's Tinker Toy-style extensibility.

Such mythological descriptions, while extreme, underline an important fact. The ninth floor of 545 Tech Square was more than a workplace for many. For hackers such as Stallman, it was home.

Two years after the explosion, the rate of innovation began to exhibit dangerous side effects. The explosive growth had provided an exciting validation of the collaborative hacker approach, but it had also led to over-complexity. "We had a Tower of Babel effect," says Guy Steele.

Although helpful in codifying the social contract of the Emacs Commune, the Emacs 15 license remained too "informal" for the purposes of the GNU Project, Stallman says. Soon after starting work on a GNU version of Emacs, Stallman began consulting with the other members of the Free Software Foundation on how to shore up the license's language. He also consulted with the attorneys who had helped him set up the Free Software Foundation.

Thirty years later, Breidbart remembers the moment clearly. As soon as Stallman broke the news that he, too, would be attending Harvard University in the fall, an awkward silence filled the room. Almost as if on cue, the corners of Stallman's mouth slowly turned upward into a self-satisfied smile.