For the most part, businesses ignored Stallman's entreaties. Still, for a few entrepreneurs, the freedom associated with free software was the same freedom associated with free markets. Take software ownership out of the commercial equation, and you had a situation where even the smallest software company was free to compete against the IBMs and DECs of the world.

The belief in individual freedom over arbitrary authority extended to school as well. Two years ahead of his classmates by age 11, Stallman endured all the usual frustrations of a gifted public-school student. It wasn't long after the puzzle incident that his mother attended the first in what would become a long string of parent-teacher conferences.

Thirty years after the fact, Lippman punctuates the memory with a laugh. "To tell you the truth, I don't think I ever figured out how to solve that puzzle," she says. "All I remember is being amazed he knew the answer."

With no dorm and no dancing, Stallman's social universe imploded. Like an astronaut experiencing the aftereffects of zero-gravity, Stallman found that his ability to interact with nonhackers, especially female nonhackers, had atrophied significantly. After 16 weeks in the AI Lab, the self confidence he'd been quietly accumulating during his 4 years at Harvard was virtually gone.

Such innovations would take another two decades to make their way into the commercial marketplace. Still, by the 1970s, video screens had started to replace teletypes as display terminals, creating the potential for full-screen-as opposed to line-by-line-editing capabilities.