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Software Editorial

Unsung Heroes of Open Source Software? 601

Yaztromo asks: "Sometimes, as an Open Source Software developer, I wonder if anyone out there is actually noticing the contributions I make to the software they're running. This got me thinking today -- how many Open Source Software packages am I running without knowing or applauding those who toiled in the background to developed them? We all know about personalities like Richard M. Stallman and Linus Torvalds, but there are a lot of unsung heroes of Open Source out there whose names may not be on the tips of everyones tongues. But perhaps they should be. They may be wizard coders, or amazing project administrators, or they provide fantastic support. Maybe they do all three, and more. Or maybe they're the person in your organization who pushed an Open Source solution in the face of an entrenched closed-source solution, and won. Or the one who printed up a whole spindle of Knoppix CD's and handed them out at a user group meeting. So here's you chance: who is your favorite unsung hero of Open Source Software, and why?"
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Unsung Heroes of Open Source Software?

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  • This is partly what the Open Source Awards [opensource.org] are about. Anyone can nominate [opensource.org] people or projects for awards and $500 Merit Awards are handed out quarterly. You can see the current list of winners [opensource.org].

    Voting will soon get underway for Q3 winners so get nominating!

    • by zonker ( 1158 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @04:30PM (#10194078) Homepage Journal
      i think folks that write documentation for open source projects are often unsung. think of all of the documentation that exists for projects like linux, apache, perl, etc. these projects wouldn't be nearly as useful if there wasn't good documentation for them.

      documentation is one of those non-sexy aspects of open source that is often the hardest part to find someone to get it done, and even harder to get done in a way normal folks can understand. tech oriented folks, like programmers, often have a hard time communicating complex ideas to non-tech folks in a usable form.

      fortunately, i know my work was well appreciated and helped lots of folks out with questions via the faq (i wrote lots of the documentation for the earlier versions of popfile). sadly, i lack the free time these days to continue working on the popfile project, but i'm proud to see lots of my work on the faq living on in the wiki and extended by others. btw, there's a new release of popfile [sf.net] today, thanks john & team! :)
    • Software that provides user-visible features is easy to identify and nominate, but there's a slew of very important and useful OS-level stuff that is invisible and "just works". This kind of software only becomes visible when it breaks.

      As an example, one area that I have been involved with is flash file system storage. Flash file systems underpin a slew of embedded and mobile applications (PDAs, phones, television sets,....). A reliable flash file system is a very valuable chunk of code that is invisible to

  • by inkdesign ( 7389 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:13PM (#10192181)
    Thanks for making it necessary buddy!
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:15PM (#10192200)
    All those random people that have single lines in software changelogs... Take this [sourceforge.net] for example. There's a project that helped get support for a popular USB camera out into the wild.

    Look all the way at the bottom. There's one guy there that did a TON for the community ;-) I hear he's really sexy too!
  • "Everyone" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:17PM (#10192227) Homepage
    "unsung heroes of Open Source out there whose names may not be on the tips of everyones tongues"

    Define "everyone". Ask mom who Bill Gates is and she'll probably know. Ask mom who Linus Torvalds is and expect a blank stare.
    • Re:"Everyone" (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LauraLolly ( 229637 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @05:06PM (#10194560)
      Ask Mom who Linus is...
      She sees the poster on the door to our workroom. She talks over whether 0S X is secure enough, and asks my Dad if he thinks they can harden both of their Macs.

      She uses Open Office, and Mozilla. I think my mom knows what Open Source is.

      One more thing. My mom is 73. My dad is 77. Never never never allow anyone to use the line about old dogs and new tricks in relation to computers.

    • Re:"Everyone" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alan Cox ( 27532 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @07:01PM (#10195655) Homepage
      My mum knows who Linus Torvalds is. OTOH she and a lot of open source people don't know much about Ulrich Drepper without whose tireless work we'd not have all the C library support and standards compliance we do

      But there are zillions of open source people who really matter, often in non-obvious ways. People like Bill Hanneman whose code few people use and everyone else hopes never to need to use, but whose code gets us into goverment and helps its users in important ways. The answer to that riddle btw is that he writes accessibility software so the disabled can use the Linux desktops.

      A free software role call would be a truely gigantic document and its precisely this that makes it work. Not just the big names but the tens of thousands of people who contributed an hour once to report and fix a bug.

  • Eric Andreychek (Score:5, Informative)

    by donnyspi ( 701349 ) <junk5@nospAM.donnyspi.com> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:17PM (#10192234) Homepage
    We're using Eric's Openthought software [openthought.net] at work. It's great and saves $$$.
  • Gene Spafford (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kurt Wall ( 677000 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:17PM (#10192237) Homepage
    ...who did a lot of gratis work on Usenet long before most people could even spell I-n-t-e-r-n-e-t.
  • The Samba Team (Score:5, Informative)

    by lkaos ( 187507 ) <anthony@@@codemonkey...ws> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:18PM (#10192245) Homepage Journal
    Why the Samba Team [samba.org] of course. Where would we be without it?
    • Hell Yeah!!! I've been using samba since the 2.0 days and its great. From serving mp3s to my fellow college students to accessing windows file shares from my linux and mac boxes, to eventually replacing the windows PDC here at work samba is great. Truely the gateway drug of open source.
      • Re:The Samba Team (Score:4, Informative)

        by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:47PM (#10193517) Homepage Journal
        The problem is that this article asked about the -unsung- heroes. Everybody knows about Samba. Groups like that get all the awards. They're big name projects, and lots of people use them.

        In my mind, though, the unsung heroes are the ones who toil for hours on end working on projects that a dozen or a few hundred people use. I'd like to give kudos to a few of them.

        Here's a couple of teams:

        • the Netatalk team
        • the CAP team
        And a list of people, listed alphabetically by team. For a fun challenge, figure out the projects they worked on.
        • Allen Briggs
        • Nigel Pearson
        • Bill Studenmund
        • John Wittkoski
        • Colin Wood
        • ------------------
        • Fred Bacon
        • Michael Burg
        • Gilbert Coville
        • Brett Halle
        • Mark Hatle
        • Nick Stephens
        I'm sure I left out a bunch of people I should have listed, but it's a start.
  • by bdrasin ( 17319 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:18PM (#10192249)
    Primary author of the GNU libc, co-author of GNU make...also of Hurd (for what its worth).

    Also a very cool, unassuming guy.
  • Red Demon (Score:3, Informative)

    by Coneasfast ( 690509 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:18PM (#10192250)
    i like the mascot of freebsd, always a good motivator, and heavily underrated.
  • Donald Becker (Score:5, Informative)

    by duffbeer703 ( 177751 ) * on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:18PM (#10192254)
    This guy is the ethernet driver guru.

    It may not seem relevant now, but there was a time when you had to hunt around for a linux-compatable ethernet driver.
    • by kaszeta ( 322161 ) <rich@kaszeta.org> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:27PM (#10192402) Homepage
      This guy is the ethernet driver guru. And the co-founder of the Beowulf project, without which we would've never had the "imagine a Beowulf cluster of these" comments that we soooo love.
    • Re:Donald Becker (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jon Proesel ( 762574 )
      I went to high school with Don, and I can say that not only is he an outstanding programmer, but he's an outstanding friend as well. He's the most caring, trustworthy guy you'd ever want to meet.
      • by roystgnr ( 4015 ) <roystgnr@nospam.ticam.utexas.edu> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:24PM (#10193221) Homepage
        I think that was one of my first "wow" moments with open source: in '97 or '98 I discovered that not only could I recompile my ethernet driver, but when I had a problem with it (Linksys had put out a new card with the same model number but a different chipset) I could email the author and he'd send me a patch.
        • That was exactly my case too!

          i don't remember what i asked him, but his answer was quick and to the point. it was certainly a 'wow' moment, and it encouraged me to read and try to understand most of the kernel (that wasn't so difficult those days of Linux 0.99pl9). I even wrote a device driver, an early version of nbd, but when i tried to submit it, linux 1.1 was underway... and before i could read it again, 2.0 was just on the horizon...

          anyway, his attitude was what totally made me an open source belei
    • Re:Donald Becker (Score:4, Informative)

      by Eivind Eklund ( 5161 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:16PM (#10193109) Journal
      ... and Donald Becker got the DrDobbs "Programming Excellence" award and is one of the most loudly acclaimed people of Open Source.

      If you want "unsung heros", I'd look elsewhere. (In the same space, Bill Paul of FreeBSD has my vote - more drivers, better code quality. That's my opinion from having hacked the code of drivers from both. But Bill has also gotten a fair amount of public recognition, especially after his Project Evil - supporting NDIS drivers on FreeBSD.)


  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:19PM (#10192263)
    Branden Robinson and Debian's X Strike Force.

    For all the crap I'm sure he's had to put up with, I gotta give him props for his effort. Thanks, Branden!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:19PM (#10192267)
    Papa John, Dominoes, Pizza Hut, and the #1 Super China Buffet delivery guy! They make it possible. As well as Corona. but i digress.
  • Both those guys have answered countless questions ranging from the sublime (complex branching problems) to the ridiculous (why doesn't WinCVS work for me?). Props also to Derek Price, who does the releases.

    All the more kudos go to these guys since CVS is slowly being superceded by Subversion; Derek, Larry, and Mark are essentially doing the thankless job of legacy tech support.
  • Russ Nelson (Score:5, Funny)

    by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:19PM (#10192278) Homepage
    I hesitated for about two seconds before nominating myself. I mean, if I don't believe in myself, who else would, or should?
    • Re:Russ Nelson (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tcopeland ( 32225 )
      > I hesitated for about two seconds
      > before nominating myself.

      I second this nomination - Russ helps lots of people out on the QMail mailing lists. Props!
      • Not that I object to the nomination of Russ, who's done a lot more than that, but his contributions to a support list for a decidedly NOT open source MTA is hardly a good justification for calling him an unsung hero of open source!

        If we were limited to picking just one unsung hero, I'd probably vote for Roland McGrath over Russ, but since nobody said I had to vote for just one, I'll happily give Russ a vote too. :)
  • by abiggerhammer ( 753022 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:19PM (#10192281)
    I don't think he does much open-source development himself, but the person who introduced me to OSS was a guy named Randall Severy [cyberteams.com], whom I met through the Artemis Society. His company actually develops proprietary content-management systems, but when I was in the Arctic and needed to do an Internet audio broadcast [livejournal.com], he helped me come up with a free, open-source way to do it after our field sysadmin said "no way."

    That incident has always symbolised the entire Open Source movement to me -- distributed thinking and determination coming up with a powerful solution, despite all the naysayers' opinions.

  • by Lank ( 19922 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:19PM (#10192286)
    David Cross [rpi.edu] is definitely one of the lesser known hackers of the world. But he's contributed to FreeBSD and fixed bugs with NFS - he's also doing a little filesystem work in his free time.. He's really the guy that keeps everything running smoothly in the RPI Computer Science Department. [rpi.edu] So I'll just give him a tip of my hat and be on my way.
  • Donald Becker (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nhtshot ( 198470 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:20PM (#10192298) Homepage
    cd /usr/src/linux
    cat $(find ./) |grep Donald Becker

    or even
    dmesg |grep Donald Becker

    Just in /drivers there are 232 comments with his name.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:21PM (#10192314) Homepage Journal
    Like it or not, RMS is a sung [gnu.org] hero of OSS.
    • by Skiron ( 735617 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:38PM (#10192561) Homepage
      Yes, one of RMS's weaker moments, but if it wasn't for RMS and GCC, I doubt any of us would have any free software at all.

      RMS coding GCC (see The Rebel Code by Gyn Moody) was inspirational... and later on allowed Linus to build his stuff.

      We all owe the man one hell of a lot.
      • Re:too much freedom? (Score:3, Informative)

        by k98sven ( 324383 )
        At the risk of getting flamed.. How about reading the GCC mailing list instead?

        RMS coding GCC (see The Rebel Code by Gyn Moody) was inspirational... and later on allowed Linus to build his stuff.

        While RMS did code gcc in the beginning, I don't feel one should give RMS credit for what it is today.
        The GCC that RMS developed was IMHO amateurish. It was primarily the work done by the people at Cygnus (now Red Hat) who turned GCC into the quality real-world compiler it is today.

        Not to mention that RMS oppos
  • by kahei ( 466208 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:23PM (#10192344) Homepage
    ...the author of vim.

    I have no idea what kind of software that 'Stallman' fellow has written, although I wish him luck -- maybe his project will catch on.
  • WGET!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cexshun ( 770970 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:24PM (#10192356) Homepage
    Hrvoje Niksic
    Designed and implemented Wget.
    Personally, I feel wget is the greatest software every to hit the GNU/Linux desktop!
    • Re:WGET!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dublin ( 31215 )
      Designed and implemented Wget.
      Personally, I feel wget is the greatest software every to hit the GNU/Linux desktop!

      I'd have to go with Daniel Stenberg of cURL fame in this category. If you are still using wget, then try cURL [curl.haxx.se]. A lot of people only know wget, and that's a shame, because cURL is better in almost every possible dimension: see the table comparing cURL to wget and others [curl.haxx.se] to see for yourself. Not only that, but cURL is much more actively maintained and improved than wget.

      While wget isn't a ba
  • In the KDE world... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sultanoslack ( 320583 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:25PM (#10192376)
    We basically have no heros in the sense of this article. Despite being one of the largest (quite possibly the largest) and most visible OSS comunities it's become something of a distinctive property of our community that we don't have someone that's out there making a lot of noise.

    I'm not sure what really defines a hero; in fact most of our "heros" in the F/OSS community probably aren't those who have contributed the most. More often they're just the guys that are stark-raving-mad and don't want anyone to miss the circus.
  • Sourceforge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mmmmmhotpants ( 800341 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:31PM (#10192447)
    Sourceforge bridged the gap between open source projects and the general public.

    It gave coders the resources they needed to get multi-coder open-source projects to the public.

    It gave the public the resources they needed to find the solutions they need and interact with the coders.
  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:32PM (#10192462) Homepage
    My nominee is the late Daniel J. Alderson, of JPL. Everything he wrote was Open Source, because that's the way JPL works. Until fairly recently, they were still using the system he wrote to maneuver spaceprobes, although it waasn't his program that caused the crash on Mars. His software navigated Project Voyager out of the Solar System and into intersteller space. It maneuvered Voyager I behind Titan, giving us the first measurment of its atmosphere.

    When he lost his sight to diabetes, I acted as his caregiver and "seeing eye person." I helped him write software tools and subroutines for general use in Project Voyager. I watched him move bytes around absolute memory addresses in FORTRAN 77, although the language was supposed to prevent this. He was, as Jerry Pournelle once wrote, "the sane genius." He died in 1988, but he's still one of the greats in my book and in that of everybody who knew him.

  • Jim WIlkinson (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rumblin'rabbit ( 711865 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:33PM (#10192492) Journal
    I've read articles saying how the Open Source movement started in the early 1990's, or some such blather. But numerical analysts have been putting software into the public domain for almost 5 decades. The ACM, for example, have been publishing code since 1960. And look at LAPACK, EisPack, SparSpak, and no and on and on. And the tradition continues to this day.

    Okay, want a name? How about Jim Wilkinson one of the fathers of modern numerical computation. Maybe not unsung, example, but perhaps unknown to most /.'s.

  • List all them? (Score:5, Informative)

    by BRSloth ( 578824 ) <julio@juliobia[ ].net ['son' in gap]> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:34PM (#10192513) Homepage Journal
    This will be a troublesome task! There is lots and lots of people that work on a large project and just one guy, with one patch, changed the way the program behave to make it the most useful program yet born. And they don't walk the street with "I wrote that patch" t-shirts.

    Maybe some of the unsung heroes really like to remain unsung. And we all just see the PR guys in front of it.

    I could list some of guys in the front of it, but I would let a lot of people that really deserve the credits because of it.

    Tim Ney (X.org), Keith Packard (Eye-candy master), Havoc Pennington (DBUS hacker), Jeff Waugh (one of the guys behind the change of GNOME), Owen Tayler (GTK maintainer), Guido Von Rossum (Python).

    Also all the Mozilla people, all the GCC people, all the Apache people, all the PHP people, all the people I left out in the GNOME project, all the people I left out in the Python project.

    I could go on and on and on and would not list everyone that really deserves. Just expanding the people in the "All the foo project" listed above would create a really big list.
  • by callipygian-showsyst ( 631222 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:37PM (#10192552) Homepage
    I think Bill Joy [wikipedia.org] deserves more credit than he gets. After all, he invented "vi" [wikipedia.org], part of the FreeBSD release. Without vi, no source code would ever have been written!
    • Here [pdx.edu] are [theregister.co.uk] a couple of links to Bill Joy interview content which explains some things about the origins of vi. Basically it came from the fact that ed was bloody unusable and if you had a glass terminal with cursor control, which was most of them (though some needed a ROM revision - that's not mentioned, though ROMs for uppercase are) then clearly it made more sense to have a screen editor, not a line editor.

      It's amazing to think that vi is actually easier to use than something else, though I used edlin b

  • john carmack (Score:4, Insightful)

    by big daddy kane ( 731748 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:41PM (#10192610)
    although his influence on open source in general may not be as large as some of the heavy hitters, he not only opensources his engines after they become less liscensed, but also supports the open source graphics libary, open gl.
  • Question: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GeckoX ( 259575 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:42PM (#10192620)
    Why pose this question towards Open Source developers only?

    Seriously, do all of the other developers out there already get enough credit? I'm pretty sure that for the most part, Open Source developers are already MUCH more visible than your average closed-source developer.

    I'm certainly not attempting to detract from OS developers, but I really don't see the point in drawing a line here except to open up some sort of this camp is better than that camp can of worms.

  • by doublegauss ( 223543 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:42PM (#10192624)
    Don Knuth Apart from nurturing countless computer scientists with The Art of Computer Programming, he donated TeX to the world, which would be enough by itself to grant the man perennial kudos.

    Larry Wall We probably wouldn't have had the Web as we know it without Perl (we wouldn't have had Perl vs Python flamewars either, though).

  • Some I can think of (Score:5, Informative)

    by Eloquence ( 144160 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:44PM (#10192669)
    Tim Kosse of FileZilla [sourceforge.net], the only really good open-source FTP client for Windows I'm aware of. He's currently busy porting it to Linux using wxWidgets (read his development diary [sourceforge.net]).

    The myriads of hackers on KDE and GNOME applications. I'm particularly fond of Kate [kde.org], KDE's text editor, which is also a component in many other KDE applications.

    Ward Cunningham [c2.com], the creator of the original wiki idea, and Clifford Adams [usemod.com], the maintainer of one of the first usable wiki engines, UsemodWiki [usemod.com].

    Rusty Foster, Dries Buytaert and Rob Malda, who created Scoop [kuro5hin.org], Drupal [drupal.org] and Slash [slashcode.com], respectively, three very powerful weblog engines I use every day.

    Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis for starting the GIMP. Ton Rosendaal and the rest of the Blender [blender.org] team for proving that proprietary applications can become open source through distributed funding.

    Anthony Jones, creator of iRATE [sourceforge.net], for exploring new ways to discover free music.

    Dave Winer of UserLand for developing a simple content syndication format (now RSS 2.0), the MetaWeblog API [xmlrpc.com] and the XML-RPC protocol.

    Keith Packard [keithp.com] of HP for his many improvements to X.

    Guido van Rossum for creating Python, Larry Wall for creating Perl and the many people involved in making PHP, and making it useful.

    And of course, the many other people involved in all of these programs, and those who built the software infrastructure that made them possible.

  • by bluFox ( 612877 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:50PM (#10192740) Homepage Journal
    There is an ancient hindu tradition of creating anonymous works.
    The authors (or the maintainors) never left their names in the body of literature or text. We can only guess at the people who created those ancient texts from other sources. The reasoning for doing that [i guess] was that, the work if it can, will survive because of its own ability and the fame for that work is same as fame for its author.
    It is perhaps the same thing that prompts us to contribute to the OSS - so that we can feel that at least a part of our selves survive through them.
  • by gorbachev ( 512743 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @02:52PM (#10192780) Homepage
    The different Jakarta and/or Apache projects are such a valuable resource I can't even begin to evaluate the amount of time and money I've saved over the years using them.

    Most of the applications I'm maintaining on a daily basis use multiple Jakarta Commons components and run on Tomcat. The quality of support from the community far exceeds the quality of support we get for most of our commercial components / products.
  • by stonewolf ( 234392 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:00PM (#10192878) Homepage
    The number one thing holding back Linux on the desktop. The number one person doing something about that is Sam Lantinga. Aside from creating LibSDL, he has helped create a huge, growing, active community that has grown up around LibSDL. They are developing games with LibSDL on pretty much anything that can run a program and porting it to everything else.


  • by Laebshade ( 643478 ) <laebshade@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:05PM (#10192961)
    Because, after all, some of the code SCO wrote is in Linux. Now Darl, don't be modest, show us what you've contributed!
  • Aww (Score:4, Funny)

    by 955301 ( 209856 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:17PM (#10193130) Journal
    Sometimes, as an Open Source Software developer, I wonder if anyone out there is actually noticing the contributions I make to the software they're running.

    Does somebody need a hug???? Come'er! We'll give you one, but it'll be sloppy, overwhelming, we'll argue the whole time we're giving it, and then we'll vanish.
  • Paul Vixie (Score:3, Informative)

    by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:23PM (#10193215) Homepage Journal
    notable for work on bind and cron among other things
  • by maxpublic ( 450413 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:25PM (#10193240) Homepage
    Without that guy, and all the porn-meisters who followed him to cash in on geek sexual frustration, the internet would still be nothing more than a curiosity.

    Thank god for porn!

  • John W. Eaton (Score:4, Informative)

    by flossie ( 135232 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:25PM (#10193241) Homepage
    John W. Eaton, developer of GNU Octave [octave.org]. John has been developing the project for over a decade and has produced a serious rival to Matlab for numerical computation. All scientists and engineers should be aware of Octave.
  • Theo DeRaadt.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mhrmnhrm ( 263196 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:29PM (#10193283)
    for being an absolute ass when it comes to maintaining license simplicity, source purity, security paranoia, and funny looking pufferfish.
  • Henry Spencer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by doom ( 14564 ) <doom@kzsu.stanford.edu> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:34PM (#10193342) Homepage Journal
    I hereby suggest for your consideration Henry Spencer, only in part for the open source code that he's written -- he was the author of a popular regular expression library, for example. The really massive contribution that Henry Spencer has made, in my opinion is *informed commentary*. He's spent decades hanging around in the C programming newsgroups (not to mention the sci.space.* tree) answering questions intelligently. This is the kind of contribution that I think gets ignored far too often... yes great coders deserve to be honored, but people willing to educate and to do it for free on a volunteer basis, and *do a good job of it* are if anything even rarer.
  • Tim Berners-Lee (Score:4, Insightful)

    by an_mo ( 175299 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:35PM (#10193357) Journal
    I am somewhat amazed by how unknown he is to the general public, at least compared to Linus.
    • Re:Tim Berners-Lee (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pjdepasq ( 214609 )
      This is so true. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak in 1996 and he was amazing. I'm currently attempting to complete a project that was on his 'wish list' back then and I'm still surprised no one has (apparently) attempted it.

      When I ask my students if they know who he is, 99% of the time it draws a blank stare. This happens with other techies of an older age as well. It's really a shame. He is the father of a great change in computing and a new business paradigm when you think about it.

      Then agai
  • Gerard Beekmans (Score:4, Informative)

    by Alwin Henseler ( 640539 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:36PM (#10193377)
    Gerard Beekmans is the guy who started the Linux From Scratch [linuxfromscratch.org] project. It's not one of the most popular distro's, but I'm pretty sure it's an important project in terms of inspiration, useful info, and generally helping Linux conquer the world.
  • Embedded Guru (Score:5, Informative)

    by GoRK ( 10018 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:37PM (#10193386) Homepage Journal
    How about Erik Andersen [codepoet.org], the force behind BusyBox and uClibc? This guy has (nearly) singlehandedly reimplemented linux userland in an insanely efficient manner. There's probably not a single embedded developer/user that doesn't owe him at least a 'thanks, man!'
  • The whole GNU team (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zoeblade ( 600058 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:40PM (#10193425) Homepage
    Isn't this why RMS insists on calling it GNU/Linux: so that the many people who contributed to the GNU part are in some way appreciated, rather than everyone looking solely to Linus "Linux" Torvalds?

    It won't work, though. Every successful band, pretty much, has one person fronting it, and it's the same principle. People find it easier to focus their gratitude on just one person.
  • by Siva ( 6132 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @03:49PM (#10193550) Homepage Journal
    • Jörg Schilling [fokus.gmd.de], cdrtools
    • Donald Becker [beowulf.org], linux ethernet drivers, Beowulf
    • thekonst [thekonst.net], centericq (a console IM client)
    • Alan Cox [linux.org.uk], linux kernel guru (I hate that word, but it fits), including being the primary maintainer of the 2.2 tree
    • Paul Vixie [vix.com], Vixie cron, BIND, ISC [isc.org]
  • by hqm ( 49964 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @04:09PM (#10193822)
    Without the bash shell, Linus wouldn't have had anything to boot up to :-)

    Brian Fox was the original author.
  • by jdavidb ( 449077 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @04:58PM (#10194429) Homepage Journal

    Han-Wen Nienhuys and Jan Nieuwenhuizen

    Bet you don't know what they did. They wanted good software for producing high quality music notation layouts. So they wrote it. And, thankfully, they made it free software to share with the world, so the next person who wanted good software for producing high quality music notation layouts could use what they had and improve on it instead of starting over.

    The result is GNU Lilypond [lilypond.org]. Currently it performs better than proprietary alternatives like Finale, but the interface is still text-based. But musicians tend to feel it does a superior layout job.

    If the guy who I had an email conversation with awhile back manages to get the Aiken 7-shape shaped note system implemented for Lilypond, I'll sing his name, too.

  • by ndogg ( 158021 ) <<the.rhorn> <at> <gmail.com>> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @05:19PM (#10194697) Homepage Journal
    I think it is the developers of the little known OSS projects that are still being worked on simply due to the love they have for their projects that are the true unsung heroes of OSS.

    Contrary to what some believe about innovation within OSS, innovation does happen. The problem is that innovative and unique projects within the OSS arena get little to no fanfare, and are thusly ignored. When an OSS project develops functionality similar in nature to a closed, proprietary software package, it may well receive much attention and fanfare because people are familiar with the functionality, and with the OSS project, they are given an alternative. With something new, there is no marketing money behind it, and so no one knows about it, and no one is looking for it.

    For example, FrogJam [frogjam.com] was developed completely independantly, and from what I know, the original developer, plat, had no knowledge of anything even remotely similar to it when he conceived of the idea. He continues to work on it to this day for the love of it, even though he's the only person really working on it (despite what the developer's page says.)
  • by Saeger ( 456549 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {jllerraf}> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @05:35PM (#10194888) Homepage
    Nobody's said this yet (in a +4), but the easiest and most visible way for the unsung devs to get some credit would be rethink how the 'Help > About' dialog was layed out, and when it's displayed.

    So, put your goofiest team headshots in there, bio, paypal links, blinken lights, ... whatever. That's the easiest way to get more credit where credit is due, if that's what you're after. As opposed to "Written by Joe Schmoe in 1999. Humble pie documentation by John Smith.".

    Also, on app startup, it's wouldn't be such a bad idea to display an about-random-developer splash page for a couple seconds. If people REALLY don't care, they can just disable the splash as you can in most apps.

    Obviously, this works best in client apps moreso than background daemons and such.


  • Tom Lane (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jadavis ( 473492 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @05:58PM (#10195155)
    Tom Lane, one of the core developers of PostgreSQL RDBMS, is an amazing developer.

    He cranks out new features, fixes difficult bugs, helps the release process, and answers questions to newbies and developers alike.

    He can break down a tough problem in no time and give the real answer clearly. He knows when a feature is just the latest DB buzzword and won't be a net win. He'll explain for the 1000th time why PostgreSQL is not using an index on someone's 12-record test data, or autogenerated test data where 90% of the records match.

    He is a brilliant developer and has taught me a lot about practical database development.
  • People (Score:3, Insightful)

    by julesh ( 229690 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @07:09PM (#10195728)
    Lots of people already mentioned, but also one that doesn't seem to have been...

    Simon Tatham, author of PuTTY. Which probably qualifies as one of the most commonly used pieces of free software on Windows. He also wrote almost all of NASM (to which I contributed a little), and I've seen his name in the Linux kernel too (to be precise, it was in the VGA console driver code).

    If you're ever in Coventry again, I'll buy you a drink. :)
  • Markus Friedl (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ^BR ( 37824 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @09:00PM (#10196598)

    On word: OpenSSH [openssh.com].

    He did not write it alone, one must not forget the work of Tatu Ylonen but singlehandledly wrote the SSH2 support integrated in the same daemon (ssh.com one forks a different daemon based on the protocol) in a very short time, making it the best SSH implementation around.

  • by asa ( 33102 ) <asa@mozilla.com> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @11:12PM (#10197493) Homepage
    A decent list of unsung heros would be thousands of people long and still miss contributors that play(ed) very important roles in all of the open source software we use today.

    I don't know nearly as many people as I should and I certainly haven't done enough to thank or otherwise praise many of the open source contributors who have been giving to projects, large and small, that I use every day. This topic has prompted me to start looking a little bit closer.

    There is one person I do know who has had a huge impact on the entire open source world as well as my open source continent (Mozilla) that doesn't get the recognition she deserves.

    Michell Baker [mozillazine.org] of the Mozilla Foundation is definitely a hero. The author of the MPL and the Chief Lizard Wrangler for the Mozilla project, she has been a driving force behind the Mozilla projects since the beginning. Without Mitchell, Mozilla just wouldn't be where it is today.


"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama