Phil Katz

1962 - 2000

Phil Katz was found dead on April 14th of the year 2000. I have a copy of the ABC News obituary here. It's fairly gruesome.

Some folks have asked me what I know about Phil Katz. It occurs to me that most folks have probably never heard the story, and of the ones who have heard of it, few would know or remember the details. So here's what I know about Phil Katz, plus a little history to put it in context. The dates could be off a bit. I also have a copy of Ben Baker's take on the whole deal, which goes into a lot more detail.

In 1985 I wrote a program called ARC. It became very popular with the operators of electronic bulletin boards, which was what the online world consisted of in those pre-Internet days. A big part of ARC's popularity was because we made the source code available. I know that seems strange these days, but back then a lot of software was distributed in source. Every company that made computers made a completely different computer. Different architectures, operating systems, languages, everything. Getting a program written for one computer to work on another was often a major undertaking.

Then sometime around 1987 or so Phil Katz came out with PKARC, which was basically my ARC program with the compression/decompression routines rewritten in assembler, which made it run a lot faster. I have to hand it to him, he had a real talent for assembly coding.

We approached him about licensing, but he rejected the idea. One thing led to another, and eventually we sued him. Fortunately his program was such a blatant copy of mine that we were able to win the lawsuit before we ran out of money. In a negotiated settlement he again rejected any suggestion of licensing and went for a cash-out settlement. He repaid us for most of our legal bills and promised to stop selling his program sometime in 1988.

Then he fiddled with the file format a bit, renamed it from PKARC to PKZIP, and kept right on selling it.

We sort of lost touch after that. We would have liked to have kept in touch, but we couldn't afford the legal bills. There wasn't a lot to sue for anyway. None of us was getting rich.

So now Phil Katz is dead. He drank himself to death, alone in a motel room, a bottle of booze in his hand and five empties in the room. One can only guess what drove him to such a tragic end, but it is a fitting demise for a man whose professional reputation is based entirely on a lie.

I can think of no more fitting epitath than the final clause of the original ARC copyright statement:

"If you fail to abide by the terms of this license, then your
conscience will haunt you for the rest of your life."

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