He was once seen as one of the most innovative programmers out there. Now Hans Reiser may spend the rest of his life behind bars, and his software’s future seems bleak.
On Monday, a California jury convicted famed Linux programmer Reiser of first degree murder for supposedly killing his wife, Nina, in 2006. During the trial, Reiser continued to deny any involvement in his wife’s disappearance, claiming that she ran away to her native Russia and framed him.
In 2001 Reiser developed ReiserFS, a file system that has played an integral part in Linux’s core kernel. The system was a very different design from its counterparts, boasting great speeds, but a low level of data security.
“When it came out in the early 2000’s, ReiserFS was considered a revelation,” said Sydney Linux Users Group president Sridhar Dhanapalan. “But it was never taken seriously outside of desktop users, and never seen as completely ready for server use.”
“When it came to stability and integrity of the data, you just didn’t want to trust a file system like that in cases of servers.”
Reiser founded his own company, Namesys, to house ReiserFS and future projects. His wife, Nina, stepped up as C.F.O. of the company. But after accusations from Reiser and his father that Nina was mismanaging the company’s funds, and her alleged affair with Reiser’s best friend, the couple separated.
Nina was last seen in September, 2006, after dropping the couple’s two young children off to spend the weekend with Reiser. A friend reported her missing two days later, and six days after her disappearance, police found her mini-van abandoned between her apartment and Reiser’s house; her purse, cash, and the rotting groceries she purchased before dropping the kids off were inside.
Meanwhile, suspicions of Reiser’s involvement in his wife’s disappearance were growing. Shortly after Nina was last seen, Reiser’s Honda CRX also disappeared, and police began following him. After searching his house, they found a mixture of Reiser and Nina’s blood near the entry of Reiser’s house.
After following him to his abandoned CRX, they found the car contained garbage bags, towels, masking tape, books about police procedures, and blood matching Nina’s. The front passenger seat had also been removed and the car’s floor recently been washed. Though there was no body, and evidence was circumstantial, Reiser was arrested in October 2006 and charged with Nina’s murder.
During the trial, Reiser portrayed himself as a “computer nerd” to explain his odd behaviour as simple social ignorance, rather than signs of guilt. He reinforced this with his actions during the trial, often arguing with members of the court and his own attorney, until the judge threatened to ban him from his own trial if he did not behave.
Reiser had begun developing Reiser4, but even before Nina’s disappearance and the trial, there was already talk of trouble.
“By the time the news came out about the trial, there were many problems,” Dhanapalan said. “I was reading quite a few messages on the main kernel mailing lists, and the main developers were just not happy.”
“He’s a quite polarising person; it seemed the people who really had control over the kernel really had a problem.”
As Reiser prepares to spend the next 25 years to life behind bars, the future of his business remains uncertain too. Though it was once one of the most hotly anticipated new systems for Linux users, it now seems most in the community have grown tired of waiting for Reiser4.
“I don’t think the file system’s going anywhere, that’s my opinion,” Dhanapalan said. “It’s been treading water for years. Even before the court case, the decision makers in Linux kernel just didn’t like it. A lot of the excitement generated by it has evaporated.”
no security measure is worth anything if an attacker has physical access to the machine