Bram Moolenaar 1961–2023
When I found out that Bram had died I posted a short thread on Mastodon, but I haven’t written anything here yet because I haven’t quite been able to work out why it hit me as hard as it did and what I wanted to say about it.
Two months on, I still haven’t really figured it out, so I’ll just say that, by all accounts, Bram was an exceptionally generous person, and note that in the handful of extremely limited interactions I had with him I always came away feeling positive, which hasn’t always been my experience with other open source projects.
Many other people wrote about him. Here are some of my favourites.
Dutch free software developer Bram Moolenaar has died. He was 62. His Vim text editor is probably one of the single most widely used Linux programs of all time.
The ICCF […] is the International Child Care Fund Holland, which Moolenaar founded after visiting Uganda to do voluntary work in 1993. He continued to act as the organization’s treasurer for the rest of his life. In addition to the ICCF, any income which he received as sponsorship for development of Vim went to the charity as well.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that before now I had never realised that Bram was actually a founder of ICCF. I think I’d always presumed it was just some charity he chose to funnel donations to.
Bram had been spending over 30 years on Vim; and not just “the occasional patch/bugfix”, but significant amounts, and almost every single day for some years.
The number of people who spent that much time working on Open Source is very small, and the number of people who have spent that much time purely in their spare time is smaller still. In fact, I don’t really know of anyone who even comes close to Bram.
Bram is one of my heroes. That’s literal and recursive: when I say it, internally I check before making a frivolous claim, which is a feature of this particular role-model; “What would Bram do?” is a fixture in me which informs my choices.
Even when treated rudely, Bram usually responded only to advance his understanding of a problem to solve. Bram was one of those humans quietly providing deep value to the universe, but there was no parade and little celebrity.
This was particularly meaningful for me. I’ve always gotten the impression that the relationship between the Neovim maintainers and Bram was cordial, but on occasion I’ve seen more critical if not actively hostile posts from some of Neovim’s supporters and (I think) contributors. So to read a post from one of its top contributors — who I’ve always thought of as its leader — that spoke of Bram in such complimentary tones was comforting.
Bram worked on Vim almost daily for over 30 years. Constantly tightening and improving it. An almost unprecedented achievement. A true labor of love.
And you notice this when you use Vim. Everything works smoothly, it is fast and rock-solid. I can’t remember a single time in over 20 years when Vim froze or crashed.
Vim, like many successful innovations, owes its origins to the contributions of those who came before. It stands on the shoulders of giants. It began as an imitation, derived from a port of a clone based on an idea by Bill Joy. However, Bram Moolenaar emerges as the true architect of Vim’s triumph and the evolution of vi-like editors. Bram is the giant on which they stand.