To facilitate the process, AI Lab hackers had built a system that displayed both the "source" and "display" modes on a split screen. Despite this innovative hack, switching from mode to mode was still a nuisance.

Outside the classroom, Stallman pursued his studies with even more diligence, rushing off to fulfill his laboratory-assistant duties at Rockefeller University during the week and dodging the Vietnam protesters on his way to Saturday school at Columbia. It was there, while the rest of the Science Honors Program students sat around discussing their college choices, that Stallman finally took a moment to participate in the preclass bull session.

As a single parent for nearly a decade-she and Richard's father, Daniel Stallman, were married in 1948, divorced in 1958, and split custody of their son afterwards-Lippman can attest to her son's aversion to authority. She can also attest to her son's lust for knowledge. It was during the times when the two forces intertwined, Lippman says, that she and her son experienced their biggest battles.

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.

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.