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Lately I have been learning of more and more programmers who think that if they were working alone, they would be faster and would deliver more quality. Usually that feeling is attached to a feeling that they do the best programming in their team and at the end of the day the idea is quite plausible. If they ARE doing the best programming, and worked alone (and more maybe) the final result would be a better piece of software.

I know this idea would only work if you were passionate enough to work 24/7, on a deadline, with great discipline.

So after considering the idea and trying to learn a little more, I wonder if there are famous one-man-army programmers that have delivered any (useful) software in the past?

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Net productivity drops when hours go to high. Don't assume the best of the best are there merely because they invest more time. If that were the case, anyone could become a great programmer. –  Brian Feb 9 '09 at 20:31
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Most of the answers are wrong. Anders didn't build C# or Turbo Pascal all by himself, for example. –  Robert S. Feb 10 '09 at 2:01
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Its weird that the number of votes to close is constant, while this question have 22 up votes and 14 favs, it only needs 4 votes to have it closed huh? –  DFectuoso Feb 10 '09 at 17:21
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111 Answers

DJ Delorie for DJGPP? Although I'm not sure if that was a one man job. As Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen pointed out in the comments to this answer, although the port is very impressive, it is a port of GCC, which is a major example of multi-person group effort.

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djgpp is a port of gcc which is a team effort. Still just the port is impressive. –  user1249 Oct 12 '11 at 6:16
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John Resig, creator of the jQuery javascript framework.

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you had me at 'jQuery' –  BPAndrew Feb 11 '09 at 18:04
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+ yeah, jQuery is rocks, I lost 10 pounds in just a week using jQuery wight loss plugin. –  clyfe Feb 13 '11 at 0:08
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Jon Skeet

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When does Jon Skeet have time for programming? –  jrockway Feb 9 '09 at 20:48
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He has an NMI fire every 8ns during which he stops answering prayers and writes several bug-free programs. –  Ken Feb 9 '09 at 20:58
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@jrockway: Jon uses Butterflies: stackoverflow.com/questions/305223/jon-skeet-facts/… –  OscarRyz Feb 21 '09 at 1:45
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He's a book writer, forum commenter, not a one-man-arm programmer.. –  Ciwee Oct 25 '09 at 11:59
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Jon Skeet writes code whilst sleeping. –  Steven Keith Sep 23 '10 at 15:20
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Eugene Roshal for creation of FAR file manager, RAR file format and WinRAR file archiver.

Mark Zuckerberg for creation of Facebook.

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How about Jeff Atwood? He created this website you're using right now.

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Andrew Tridgell.

rsync & samba

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Chris Crawford (of Atari, at the time) author of numerous ground-breaking games, including Eastern Front (1941) and Balance of Power.

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Dan Bricklin inventor of the "electronic spreadsheet" i.e. VisiCalc which "inspired" Microsoft among others to "invent" similar software i.e. Excel.

Richard Bartle for inventing MUD which is the great grandfather of all MMORPGs.

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Lennart Poettering - Author of Avahi, pulseaudio , systemd

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Gabriel Weinberg, creator of DuckDuckGo.

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Allan Odgaard, author of TextMate.

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Ivan Sutherland, inventor of Sketchpad.

I once asked Ivan Sutherland "How could you possibly have done the first interactive graphics program, the first non-procedural programming language, the first object-oriented software system all in one year?" He said "Well, I didn't know it was hard".

- Alan Kay

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Charles Simonyi (Microsoft Word and Excel)

Simon Peyton-Jones (Haskell)

Joe Armstrong (Erlang)

Bertrand Meyer (Eiffel)

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Some not yet mentioned

  • L. Peter Deutsch - Ghostscript, PDP 1 version of Lisp (at 12)
  • Notch creator of MineCraft
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Eddir Kohler, author of the Click modular router

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Walter Bright was once a one-man show for several years when it came to Digital Mars' C++ compiler. He also started the D language and wrote a C++ version of Empire by himself (later ported it to D).

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Dave Cutler

The father of VMS and NT.

Personal note - I consider it a bit of a shame that the world at large doesn't get to see Cutler's code in NT (most of it still lives on today in Windows). It is by far the most gorgeous code I've seen, in any language. I used to look it up when I felt I needed 'code inspiration'. Getting to meet him and work with him in Windows Azure will definitely count as one of the highlights of my Microsoft career.

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Markus Persson("Notch") is the one guy behind the game design, programming and graphics of Minecraft.

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James Clark wrote groff, sgmls, expat, and was a key contributor in creating XML and Relax NG.

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Justin Frankel - creator of Winamp and Gnutella, the first serverless P2P system, still in use

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Jeff Minter. He's been programming video games and music light synthesizers since the early 1980's. While he does work with another programmer now, he was a one-man-show for many years. His most impressive feat IMHO? Writing Tempest 3000 for the defunct Nuon, in assembler.

If you own an Xbox 360, you have some of his code.

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Paul Lutus developed Apple Writer alone in a remote cabin in Oregon. He still puts out some excellent ruby and python scripts.

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Some personal favorites

Avery Lee of Virtualdub - Not really widespread use but the amount of code is impressive, not to mention he seems to have an obsession in assembly optimizing everything.

Gabest of Media Player Classic - As far as lines of code and impact, I think he deserves some appreciation for its early development.

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I would posit that most really cool software came from one person. We could just as well ask "Does anyone know of any brilliantly designed software out there that is the result of a committee rather than a single individual?"

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Richard M. Stallman (RMS). While known recently for political rants about closed source software, in his day he was quite the programmer. He single handedly kept up with commercial lisp machine code for quite some time. Emacs and gcc are some of the things he created.

There's a great description of him in the book in Hackers by Steven Levy.

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Berlin: like gcc, gdb and make? –  mjard Feb 10 '09 at 7:26
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RMS was a one man army keeping up with commercial LISP machines only because he was the only one nuts enough and able to do it :) He did the initial emacs on his own because the concept was just too complex to articulate to anyone else.. but after that, he happily worked with others. –  Tim Post Mar 4 '09 at 4:39
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In his defense, Symbolics people would design Lisp machines probably sitting around offices and tables, allowing RMS to hack up imitations on MIT systems of their designs and feature decisions. He would become a one-man army again to keep Emacs apace with the XEmacs fork. –  ashawley Mar 24 '09 at 19:23
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xkcd.com/225 –  Jason Jun 19 '09 at 8:33
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Nick Bradbury the creator of HomeSite, TopStyle and FeedDemon.

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Bill Atkinson wrote MacPaint for the original Macintosh.

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Markus Persson (aka Notch) for Minecraft.

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