The seemingly troubled life of an open source technology leader came to a sudden, premature end in San Francisco this week. Software engineer Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian Linux and later a senior staffer at Docker, died Monday at age 42 — under circumstances that aren’t yet clear.
Born in West Germany, Murdock (pictured) moved to the United States and attended Purdue University. In January 2006, he became chief technology officer of the Free Standards Group and was elected chair of the Linux Standard Base workgroup.
He continued as CTO of the Linux Foundation when the group was formed from the merger of the Free Standards Group and the Open Source Development Labs. He then left the following year when he was named vice president of emerging platforms at Sun Microsystems. He stayed there until the company merged with Oracle in early 2010. From 2011 until 2015 Murdock was vice president of platform and developer community at Salesforce Marketing Cloud. He began working at Docker in November.
No details about the cause of Murdock’s death have been released, but it came after a period of several days when he had numerous run-ins with police in San Francisco, where he lived. Sources told ZDNet that last Saturday, police responded to reports of a man, who turned out to be Murdock, trying to break into a home. Murdock was reportedly drunk and resisted arrest. He was given a ticket for two counts of assault and one for obstructing a police officer, and he was treated for an abrasion on his forehead.
Then at 2:40 a.m. Sunday, he was arrested after banging on the door of a neighbor in the same block. An EMT treated him at the scene for undisclosed injuries, and Murdock was arrested and taken to the San Francisco County Jail. He was released Sunday afternoon after posting a $25,000 bond.
In the days following those incidents, Murdock had been posting distressing tweets from his Twitter account, including this one on Monday: "I’m committing suicide tonight." He later backed away from that threat, but continued to address the run-ins he’d had with police.
"The police here beat me up for [knocking] on my neighbor's door . . . they sent me to the hospital," he wrote. Murdock also maintained that he had been assaulted by the police, had his clothes ripped off, and was told, "We're the police, we can do whatever . . . we want."
On its blog, Docker CEO Ben Golub posted a note acknowledging Murdock’s death. "It is with great sadness that we inform you that Ian Murdock passed away on Monday night," he said. "This is a tragic loss for his family, for the Docker community, and the broader open source world; we all mourn his passing."
On the company blog, Debian’s Ana Guerrero Lopez, Donald Norwood and Paul Tagliamonte wrote, "Ian's dream has lived on, the Debian community remains incredibly active, with thousands of developers working untold hours to bring the world a reliable and secure operating system."