On the heels of the latest AV Linux release it was with great shock and unexpected tears that I read today of the recent passing of W.P. (Bill) Morrow the developer of the Cinelerra-GG Project in a bicycle traffic accident. Why the tears? Did I know him? Were we good friends?
In my 12 years of working on AV Linux I have met many interesting people, a few in person at the Linux Audio Conference but most in online correspondence of one kind or another.. I’ve been a longtime User and supporter of the Cinelerra Video Editor project, it probably has the distinction of being one of the most loved and hated Open Source Software projects out there… I’m in the lover category..
Cinelerra has a long and dramatic storied history which is of secondary importance here, lets just say a few years ago the project was mortally wounded and expected to die to all except the sole remaining developer that was working on it. I was one of the dwindling people left on their CV (Community Version) Mailing List and was quickly losing hope that sustained development or significant improvement would ever return.. The project was brilliant under the hood but had languished and fallen badly out of step with the needs of the exploding mobile device Content Creation boom. A recent lapse and shocking loss of the projects web domain to a competitive fork cleared the decks of the few remaining supporters and developers very quickly so things were looking grim..
A couple of new names ‘Phyllis’ and ‘GoodGuy’ popped up on the mailing list and they seemed to be weirdly interested in helping with CV, they were at first met with some suspicion when it was revealed they had been working with the fork of Cinelerra that had snapped up the web domain but over time it became apparent there had been a falling out with that project and they felt their efforts would be more appreciated by the CV Community. Very soon after that things started happening in a hurry… GoodGuy created a new fork known at first as ‘5.1’ and had the audacity to take every viable fork of Cinelerra in existence and create a “Greatest Hits” version that was about 50% better right off the bat! Suddenly a project that saw a few GIT commits a month was seeing several GIT commits per day, whole features that had been debated on the mailing list literally for years appeared in a few weeks time.. User suggestions made in passing were popping up in GIT like Prairie Dogs! Of course the widening gulf between the developing rationale of the existing CV project and the new “GG” (GoodGuy) fork generated some tension that could only be alleviated by separating the Projects, ‘5.1’ became Cin (or Cinelerra-GG) and once on it’s own domain and mailing list development only accelerated! In no time an elaborate build server and an on-the-clock monthly release schedule were employed and with every update you could almost sense that the packaging was still warm from being worked on so voraciously!
But who were these people…? They were very quiet and private, as time went on it became evident that GoodGuy was the developer and Phyllis was the organizer and documenter. It took some probing of the source code commits at first to reveal that GoodGuy was W.P. (Bill) Morrow. They were not just tech coworkers they were a retired romantic couple! To occupy their time Bill took on Cinelerra as a retirement project.. now for a retired Software developer to contribute to an Open Source project is not unheard of… but a couple working on a Software Project together as a daily unpaid occupation!? You can’t write that stuff! When the name ‘Phyllis’ appeared we few solitary nerds left on the mailing list were quickly amazed that a female of any kind was posting (which is a sad fact) but her mercurial efficiency and attention to detail was what really what got our attention. In very short order this dream team took a project with rapidly fading potential and turned it into an absolute powerhouse of a Video Editor!
This is all worth noting for the software story alone of course but that hasn’t prompted me to write this.. I know loads of well-run successful Software projects. To see two people so focused on a completely voluntary common goal and working together in such solidarity has been very inspiring to me. To see the fruit of that labour make such an incredible difference to something as esoteric as a software project has underscored to me what the power of unity, common purpose and knowing to embrace each others strengths is. I have seen all of this in contrast as someone whose long-term marriage failed around the time that Phyllis and ‘Goodguy’ started appearing on my computer screen so their inspiring example is bittersweet but still so strongly instructive and meaningful..
So are we friends? I don’t know.. we know of each other and have corresponded.. we appreciate each others work… For my part I can say that these people by example have touched my life in a way that many of my close friends and family have not. When I read the crushing news about Bill today my heart sunk as it does when a close friend or relative has passed.. We Users of Cinelerra-GG will remember Bill when we launch the program, when we enjoy our feature request he diligently included and when we read his name in Phyllis’ immaculate release notes. But to Phyllis who shared much more than a Software Project with Bill what can we say? What words can express and provide comfort and meaning in the face of such a devastating loss??
Phyllis I am so sorry for your loss, you and your family are being held in our hearts and minds and as Bill rests in peace we hope that in time peace will rest upon you..