June 01, 2010, 8:22 AM — In 1976, Bill Gates, the 20-year-old head of a company that was still spelling its name "Micro-Soft," wrote an "open letter to hobbyists" decrying their copying of his company's Altair BASIC code, a landmark in the transition of computing from hobby to industry. It was also an instance of Microsoft, in its infancy, flexing its muscle to impose its will on an industry of free-wheeling free-spirits.
My point is not that Microsoft was wrong to put the hammer down -- indeed, some could say that the entire for-profit software industry sprung forth from that letter -- merely that the seeds of the company's behemoth nature were evident from the beginning. But other companies were instead viewed as upstarts, plucky underdogs, for years before everyone noticed that they were in fact multimillion dollar corporations required by fiduciary responsibility to maximize their profits. We offer you a tour of once-beloved tech pioneers that suddenly found themselves wearing black hats.
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