Celebrating Ian Murdock

by Doc Searls

Ian Murdock was a Linux original. He gave us Debian in 1993 when he was still an undergrad at Purdue, and Linux' latest version was to the right of the decimal point. (He was the ian in the name. His wife Deborah Lynn was the Deb.) Over the next year Ian helped launch Linux Journal with articles about Debian in Issues #1, #3 and #6. His name has also appeared on our pages many times since. His Debian Manifesto remains a founding document of the whole Linux movement, providing a conceptual framework for both code contribution and ethical action.

After college Ian was involved in many other development projects and organizations, pushing forward Linux, free software, open source and other stuff we care about here. More formally, he worked successively for Progeny, the Linux Foundation, Sun Microsystems, ExactTarget, Salesforce — and, finally, Docker, which put up a memorial post yesterday. He was just 42: way too young for one who had given so much and had so much left to give. His death leaves a huge hole in our hearts and our community.

Back when Linux was still a full-blown cause (meaning, before it won), I got a lot of hang time with Ian at conferences and other gatherings. What impressed me most about him was that his loyalties were less to his creations and his employers than to what worked best, what was most fair, what did the most good for the world. And he was a really good guy. When I look back through my email correspondence with him, everything he said was cheerful and good-humored. The only dark edge appears in retrospect: a quote in his signture I'll copy and paste here: "Don't look back--something might be gaining on you." --Satchel Paige.

The story of Ian's death is the subject of much speculation to those of us (me included) who know nothing more than what's been tweeted. The most vexing of those tweets are Ian's own disturbing (apparently) final ones, dissapeared from Twitter (when they yanked his account) but preserved at the Internet Archive. More news is bound to emerge, but then that will fade while Ian's influence on the world will only continue to expand. So let's celebrate the man and his influence. Please share your own remembrances in comments here, or email me links I can add to the ones below. I'm doc at linuxjournal.com. Thanks.

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