Ian Murdock was best known as the creator of Debian. He’s someone I met back when I was first getting into Linux, some years after I’d published my first Open Source program. I’d tried SLS and Slackware (early Linux distributions) first, and then Debian, back when Ian was the sole developer of the core system and there were less than 50 package maintainers. It was Ian’s idea to create a non-profit Linux distribution when other distribution creators were attempting to cash in, and to make it all Free Software. 23 years later, I still run Debian on all of my systems and type this on one of them.
I remember writing a recommendation for him when he was taking a research position at U. of Arizona: “Ian is one of those rare people who can make something from nothing”. That he was. Although Debian was, and remains, the work of many people, Ian has the sole credit for its origination, and the impact of Debian has been tremendous although not always well-understood by the public whobenefit from it. Much good software that you use today happened because of Debian, and my own work on Open Source was because of my involvement in Debian.
Later on, I hired Ian to be CEO of Progeny Linux Systems, and my company arranged funding for Progeny. My concept for Progeny was to create a commercially supported Debian system, not unlike the Ubuntu system today. With the cooperation of his stockholders, the Simon group (known for their shopping malls), Ian departed from that concept and attempted to build a business based upon a distributed filesystem that he and a partner had been researching at Arizona.
Unfortunately, the business relationship went toxic from the moment the company was formed. Ian and I didn’t stay friends. None of this diminishes the fact that Ian was a tremendously bright and capable person who did a lot for the world.
After that, Ian was for a time CTO of the Linux Foundation, and was essentially the leader of operating systems development for Sun Microsystems. He held several impressive positions after that.
To those of you who blame the police he encountered twice before his suicide: not this time. Ian died a victim of mental illness.
It’s horrible that such a genius, someone who did so much good, went through that disease and had such a meaningless, unfair, undignified death.