I suspect it's because 96=80+16. Tab stops are traditionally 4 or 8 chars wide, and in the Linux kernel coding convention are 8 chars. So 96 would let you create text with two more indentation levels before you hit today's limits.
I don't know if that a REAL improvement, though. Too many OTHER things don't work as well when you go beyond 80 chars.
Anyway, that's my guess.
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