I woke up on Saturday to read on Bram Moolenaar’s Facebook page an announcement of his death. I knew Bram online for nearly 30 years and I was one of his relatively small number of Facebook friends, but we never met in real life. I knew that he had retired from Google Zurich to Tenerife, but I hadn’t been aware that he had been ill.
Bram was known to the world for his signature creation, the Vim text editor, used by millions of developers on Linux, macOS, and Windows. Vim stands for Vi IMproved, but it outgrew the original vi long ago.
I was an active contributor to Vim in the 1990s: I wrote a lot of the Win32 console mode code as well as the alpha version of Windows gVim; my name is at the top of the page if you do :help win32. In the 00s, I ported Vim to Win64. I drifted away from active participation more than a decade ago, but I still lurk on the vim_dev mailing list.
Vim has been the thoroughly dominant flavor of vi for a number of years, but that wasn’t the case in the 90s. There were Elvis, vile, xvi, and other things I no longer recall. Bram built a better vi and he built a solid community of developers and users. I never saw the toxic behavior that’s prevalent in some tech communities. Bram was always a patient and reasonable leader. He poured countless hours into making Vim an ever better editor and he answered so many questions on the various mailing lists. Vim would not have succeeded half so well without the community that he built. I didn’t always agree with Bram’s technical decisions (and neither did the NeoVim people), but I have enormous respect for what he accomplished, technically and socially.
The other remarkable thing about Vim is that it’s charityware. Vim users were strongly encouraged to donate to ICCF Holland, which supports children in Kibaale, Uganda. Bram was the treasurer of ICCF and was involved with the work for many years. When I was at Microsoft, I got a bunch of Vim-loving engineers to donate; Microsoft matched our donations. I made another donation to ICCF today in his memory.
It’s clear that work on Vim will continue. Although Bram was the benevolent dictator for life of Vim, a handful of others have commit rights and are planning future of the Vim project. They have big shoes to fill. I don’t know enough about ICCF to say how severely this will affect them.
ETA: The upcoming Vim 9.1 release will be dedicated to Bram, just as the 9.0 release was dedicated to Sven Guckes, who died last year. Sven was one of Vim’s greatest ambassadors, endlessly helpful to users in the newsgroups. We stayed for a week with Sven in August 2014 in his Berlin apartment, and he was the most wonderful host, spending many hours showing us around his beloved city.
The best articles that I’ve seen about Bram so far: