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Debian Founder and Docker Employee Ian Murdock Dead at 42

Last updated 12/30/15 at 8:06 p.m. EST

FOSS Force has learned that the founder of Debian and current Docker employee Ian Murdock is dead at age 42.

The news of Murdock’s death was first made public in a blog post on the Docker website, where he worked. When the page became unreachable at approximately 4:20 p.m. EST, there was a glimmer of hope that perhaps the report had been an error, as the post made no mention of a cause of death, nor did it reference disturbing tweets on Murdock’s Twitter account on Monday. However, the page was back online by a little after 5:00 p.m.

Ian Murdock
Picture of Ian Murdock, taken from Docker page announcing his death.
Monday’s tweets indicated that Murdock, a San Francisco resident, was or had been in some kind of scuffle involving the police. During the series of tweets, he indicated that he might be a suicide risk. One rather cryptic, and ominous-with-hindsight, tweet: “@jacksormwriter wants me dead.” A search on Twitter shows no account with that handle. There has been speculation that the tweets were a hoax and not made by Murdock but by someone who had hacked his account.

Evidently, the Docker post making his death public went up sometime early this afternoon. Venture Beat, a San Francisco based site, was one of the first to report the story, at a little after 2:00 p.m. At that time the cause of death was unknown, and reporter Jordan Novet’s story seemed to be based solely on the Docker post. Not long after that, the UK site The Register also reported him dead. They also say that the cause of death is not yet known “but it is not believed to be suspicious.”

Murdock started Debian in 1993, primarily to address shortcomings in SLS, the major distro at the time and which was the bases for Slackware, thinking it wasn’t being maintained well and that it was bug ridden. With Debian’s first public release, version .91 in 1994, he included with it the Debian Linux Manifesto, which called for a Linux distribution to be maintained with transparency. Murdock left his leadership role at Debian in 1996, replaced by Bruce Perens.

In 2003, Murdock joined Sun Microsystems to take charge of the OpenIndiana project, which eventually led to the proprietary Unix operating system Solaris being released under an open source license as OpenSolaris. He rose through the ranks at Sun to reach the rank of Vice President of Emerging Platforms. He resigned in 2010 when the company was acquired by Oracle.

Soon after leaving Sun, Murdock found himself in the position of Vice President of Platform and Developer Community at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, a position he left earlier this year. Last month he began working for Docker.

This is a sad day for the FOSS community and even more so for the people with the Debian project, but especially so for Murdock’s family. The Register reports that the family has called this a “private matter” and indicated they would like their privacy respected.

The Register is now reporting that Murdock was involved in two altercations with the San Francisco police, on Saturday, December 26 and again on Sunday, December 27. According to The Register, in the first incident, he “fought with the cops, and was given a ticket for two counts of assault and one for obstruction of an officer” and was released so he could be taken to a hospital to have an abrasion to his forehead treated. He was subsequently arrested about 2:00 a.m. for another incident and was held in jail until being released later that day, after a bond presumed to be about $25,000 was posted.

FOSS Force will continue to monitor the situation and publish updates on developments.

Editor’s Note: This is an update to a story that was originally published on 12/30/15 at 4:15 p.m. This story was further updated at 8:06 p.m. to include information about Murdock’s encounters with the police.

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  1. Caffewmilk Caffewmilk December 30, 2015

    His twitter account, and possibly his blog, was taken down. Google Cache has yet to catch up though and I found his latest tweets there. I hope for his family’s sake this whole situation gets cleared out. My condolences to Ian Murdock’s family and very close friends.

  2. Caffewmilk Caffewmilk December 30, 2015 is still up. Looks like his latest entries were back in September, nothing recent.

  3. Scott Dowdle Scott Dowdle December 30, 2015

    I’m really hoping that it is a cracker (aka bad hacker) who has fooled a lot of the tech media… but that is looking less likely as time passes.

    That tweet about do not intervene because he has a lot of stories to tell really doesn’t make sense… unless he was planning on doing a suicide-by-police situation where he attacked the police… in a fatal attempt to bring media attention to his plight. I certainly hope that is NOT the case… and that maybe it was just a typo.

  4. Michael McCallister Michael McCallister December 30, 2015

    Thanks for staying on top of this unsettling story. I never met Ian Murdock, but deeply honor and respect his contributions to the FOSS movement. It would be tragic if he wound up just another victim of police violence.

  5. Christine Hall Christine Hall December 30, 2015

    @Michael That it would. Although it’s too early to speculate, unfortunately so far that’s not out of the question.

  6. Eddie G. Eddie G. December 31, 2015

    My deepest sympathies and condolences go out to his family. The F.O.S.S. universe just lost one of its brightest stars!

  7. Mindaugas Mindaugas January 1, 2016

    Rest in peace, Ian. And yes. All cops are bastards!

Comments are closed.

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