Frans Pop, a free lunch, ARM netbook & Debian overwork before suicide

The biggest reason for my blogs about Frans Pop, the Debian Day Volunteer Suicide is that I hope this will never happen again.

So far, we've seen the story of Frans Pop's first resignation in May 2007 and a second resignation the night before Debian.Day in 2010.

After the first resignation, what brought him back to Debian?

Before answering that question, it is interesting to look at the extraordinary risks of overworking.

Companies like Google, Ubuntu and ARM have identified open source projects like Debian as an opportunity to gamify work and thereby get more hours out of people.

At DebConf, for example, they insist that we share rooms with other volunteers so that we can not bring our partners. In some years, such as DebConf13 in Switzerland, there is no alternative accommodation within a reasonable distance. This is basically a gimmick to eliminate distractions and increase the number of hours that are spent on work-like activities.

Yet they seem to have no problem finding money for lawyers. Swiss lawyers are charging Debian CHF 400 per hour to harass a volunteer. It is estimated that they already spent CHF 50,000 on legal fees at the end of 2022 and early 2023.

The first resignation

Subject: [Very long] Post-partem rant and retrospective
Date: Thu, 31 May 2007 03:56:11 +0200
From: Frans Pop <>

I've decided to write this in a separate mail because I'm afraid this may get long. Quite a bit of this has been written before, but I hope some of you will bear with me.


So, what has made me decide to leave the project. It's a combination of just plain emotional stress over the whole Sven Luther issue, frustration with the inability of the project to deal with that and with some other issues, and frustration with the fact that a fair number of members of the project seem to feel that as long as you don't upload packages with trojans, pretty much anything is OK.

Steve McIntyre's BBQ

Later in 2007, Frans Pop traveled to Cambridge, England for a BBQ organized by Steve McIntyre. At the time, McIntyre was employed by ARM and he was a previous Debian Project Leader (DPL), having ended the term in April 2007. Debian is not incorporated and so it is basically an extension of McIntyre's job at ARM.

Lucy Wayland was also an ARM employee at the time of her death in 2019.

It looks like Frans came out of Debian retirement for a sausage and a beer.

Subject: Revoking retirement from the project
Date: Fri, 19 Oct 2007 13:51:06 +0200
From: Frans Pop <>

On Thursday 31 May 2007 03:55, Frans Pop wrote:
> As already announced in an earlier mail, I am hereby retiring from the
> project.

Right. We are now almost 3 months after I made my resignation final (or 5 months since I first announced it) and after a lot of soul searching the past couple of weeks and looking at what I've been doing over the past few months, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not ready to abandon the project after all.

As my account is still active (which is probably not completely surprising), I guess that technically I'm still a DD and thus that this message should be sufficient. If not, please let me know.

The main factors that have prompted this decision have been two real life meetings (Sledge's BBQ and a small dinner in AMS) and also watching the moving "last lecture" from MIT's Randy Pausch [1]. The first have made me realize the strong ties I've developed with some DDs and the last has made me reconsider whether I should give up so "easily".
I also want to thank the many people who sent me a message (either on d-private or privately) in reply to my resignation mails. Though not an important factor, they have helped to make me reconsider.

The fact that I want to be a DD again does not mean that I'm ready to go back to the level of involvement/activity I had before my resignation. I am rather disappointed at the progress on social committee and on DSA and FTP-master issues since Debconf, although both seem to have been revived recently.
For the time being I'm going to be doing just the things that I enjoy and feel like doing. I certainly won't be taking on any major responsibilities until there is a lot more clarity how social issues are going to be handled in the future.

It seems to me that one problem may be that people treat social problems like a bug: they first have to reproduce the problem themselves and experience it at first hand before being willing to acknowledge that there _is_ a problem and act accordingly.
I hope that the past events have shown that this does not work and that we need mechanisms to either intervene early so escalation is prevented, or at least need to act consistently after measures have been taken. I think that as a project we have to learn to trust and accept the judgement of others in such matters.



The free ARM netbook

Some time later, Pop was gifted a free ARM netbook in exchange for adapting the Debian installer to run on it.

In March 2010, a few months before his death, Pop wrote a blog about the ARM netbook, captured in

I got this neat little Chinese netbook after a mail to the debian-arm list where one machine was offered in exchange for porting Debian to it. So I offered to get Debian Installer running on it.

Pop makes the following comment in the blog:

The goal of getting D-I running was achieved last week, though not without needing to overcome some steep hurdles.

Throughout the first months of 2010, we can see Pop interacting with other developers in the debian-arm mailing list archives.

Pop was not employed or paid by ARM. He did all this as a volunteer.

The ARM netbook was valued at approximately $130. Was one free netbook fair consideration for the effort Frans Pop expended?

Porting to a new platform is not always very hard, sometimes it is just tedious.

When the DEP-5 debate resurfaced on Friday, 13 August 2010 it may have simply been the straw the broke the camel's back. Pop's energy was already spent on other tasks earlier in the year.

In fact, this notion of the straw that broke the camel's back is the same conclusion I considered looking at the coroner's report for Richard Rothwell's suicide in 2009.

McIntyre, from ARM, had been re-elected DPL in April 2008 and served in that role until April 2010. Pop resigned to commit suicide the night before Debian.Day. He left instructions for his parents to contact McIntyre, it appears that McIntyre had some sort of spell over Pop.

Subject: Resignation
Date: Sun, 15 Aug 2010 21:41:18 +0200
From: Frans Pop <>

It's time to say goodbye. I don't want to say too much about it, except that I've been planning this for a long time.

Subject: Death of Frans Pop
Date: Sat, 21 Aug 2010 11:47:34 +0100
From: Steve McIntyre <>

Hi all,

I have bad news to share with people, I'm afraid. This morning, I've
just received an email from the parents of Frans Pop telling me that
he died yesterday.

"Yesterday morning our son Frans Pop has died. He took his own life,
in a well-considered, courageous, and considerate manner. During the
last years his main concern was his work for Debian. I would like to
ask you to inform those members of the Debian community who knew him


More about the Debian.Day volunteer suicide

Frans Pop, ARM netbook, Debian