Re: Ian Murdock

Almost 20 years ago my father answered the phone as we ate a late family dinner. He was mightily confused because the man on the other end of the call was asking him questions he had no idea how t answer. After a few moments of confusion, my father told the man, he was pretty sure he wanted his son, Kevin, not him.

On the other end waited Ian Murdock. He’d taken the time to call me up to do my Debian maintainer identity interview. It was, and is, a big deal, from a security standpoint, to verify the identity of new Debian maintainers. But the task is tedious, calling up new maintainers and talking to them for half an hour. Imagine my surprise, when, the man doing my interview was *the* Ian from deb*ian*. One of the co-founders of the entire project had taken the time to call me. I was Impressed.


Years later, I got to meet Ian in person at an ExactTarget conference, and I thanked him for calling a nerdy high school kid to verify his identity. He not only confirmed my identity for security purposes, but he affirmed that I mattered, and could help. At the time, I don’t think he remembered the call, and I don’t think I was sufficiently able to convey what his call meant to me.

Last Monday, Ian Murdock was found dead in his home. The details are few, the speculation rampant. Police may or may not be involved. The proximate cause might have been Suicide. Was his Twitter account hacked? Regardless of the details, I’m reminded that all too often our culture judges people by their actions in the worst moments of their life. Those who have killed are forever murderers branded by their actions at the worst moments of their life. We don’t seem to have a cultural construct for good people who made mistakes. Not where suicide or the police are concerned. I’ve already started to see Ian eulogized not for his contributions to the world, but as a “crazy” and someone who gave up. I don’t know how Ian died, it’s likely you don’t either. It doesn’t matter; Ian was more, is more, than the unknown actions at the end of his life. He was also the kind of man who’d not only call and verify my identity, but reaffirm an insecure high school nerd’s ability to meaningfully contribute to the world at large.

To Ian, Thank you for all that you were and did.


  1. Great post, does it matter if he did go crazy at the end? He did some amazing and astounding things, if he’d gotten alzheimers at 80 and done the same things would people bat an eye? Maybe he had a brain tumor, maybe he was telling the truth, and some major part of his brain that controls inhibitions was damaged in the confrontation with police, we may never know.

    But what we do know is he was great in what he accomplished. Debian and all it’s children (ubuntu etc..) will live on for a long long time to come. The world is a better place because of his contributions, and ultimately, the rest really isn’t any of our nosy business.

  2. Lovely, mate.

    I didn’t know him at all. I only learned of him after he died. A fairly recent convert to GNU/Linux, Debian has been the distro I settled on. His legacy is important. Debian, man.. but also Ubuntu, Mint, Linux Lite, Raspbian.. and a beautiful free philosophy attached to it.. and him.

    People are yet to discover the open-source side of system operations and when they do, his legacy will be appreciated by them too. He will be remembered for his genius, philosophy and invention, for eternity.

  3. Great post and a fitting tribute! As a Debian enthusiast, I looked up to Ian and I’ll always have fond memories of my interactions with him. The world needs more people like him. RIP Ian!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *