Linux, Without The Git Factor

Linux started as a student project in the 1990s, the creation of Linus Torvalds. He has attained celebrity status while steering his creation through the decades, but along the way he has also attracted a different reputation within the Linux and software community. He is famous for his outbursts and rants, some of which become rather personal, and it is not difficult at all to find kernel developers or would-be kernel developers who have turned their backs on the project as a result.

It’s very refreshing indeed then to read an update from [Linus] as part of his regular communications, in which he admits that he has an issue, and says that he is taking the time to seek help for it. There is an accompanying update to the kernel maintenance code of conduct, which suggests that this is likely to mark a sea-change in that environment, as well as we hope salvage that aspect of [Linus]’ reputation.

“My flippant attacks in emails have been both unprofessional and uncalled for. Especially at times when I made it personal. In my quest for a better patch, this made sense to me. I know now this was not OK and I am truly sorry.”

The Hackaday community has a much greater than average proportion of Linux users among its readership. Even those readers who use a desktop OS with BSD, Windows, or other kernels will almost certainly have a Linux kernel somewhere, whether it’s in their phone, their set-top-box, their children’s toys, or even their domestic appliances. And of course a large swath of the Internet runs on Linux. It is in the best interest of us all that we continually attract and retain brilliant people to contribute to the effort put into developing and maintaining the Linux kernel.

Without wishing to lionise [Linus] above the many others whose work has also contributed to Linux and its success, his contribution to our community has been beyond measure and it has been uncomfortable to see his other side. It’s a step in the right direction to apologize for personal attacks and behavior that drives a wedge into the kernel developer community, and seek to change that behavior. We’d urge others to follow his example, we’re sure every grouping has at times had its personality problems, and it’s never too late to enact some repairs.

While Linus steps away to work on his self improvement, veteran kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman will take the reigns among the kernel maintainers.

81 thoughts on “Linux, Without The Git Factor

  1. While it is easy to see Linus’ overbearing rants as merely an obnoxious personality trait (and he is far from alone in this) it is also easy to be sympathetic since nurturing and open source project from the initial hack through to the point where it is useful to more people than you can fit in a room is by nature a labor of love (because you don’t start really getting external feedback until you pass that initial stretch) I think a lot of developers have an impulse to shield their projects from mutation away from their initial vision and to (perhaps unconsciously) want all contributors to have the level of slavish dedication they themselves had during that long pull between “hello world” and when it initially became widely used.
    That being said, I have definitely been put off by an overzealous project maintainer and walked away from a patch that was ready to submit (not Linux and I won’t name names since the maintainer of the project in question may also have outgrown their spikiness in intervening 18 years). I suspect that in the long run most people will, as Linus is now doing, take a step back and decide to let the larger community in. Open source is by nature a statement of hope that one day that will happen but it’s understandable that some folks get jittery about actually making that leap of faith when the time comes.

    1. It’s a mixed blessing. On one hand it sets the bar high, and on the other it sets up a culture of arrogance where people feel they’re entitled to be rude and often use it to ward against legitimate criticism through intimidation.

      1. Totally. Without that ironclad (but arrogant) enforcement of vision a fledgling project can easily end up in the weeds before it has the momentum to become long-lived and self-sufficient. Knowing when and how to ease up is a tough problem even for those with the best people sense and direct in person contact with other contributors and for computer geeks who may or may not have the knack with people and adding in the remoteness of distance and email and things are bound to get wobbly at times. The resilience of the community to carry on in spite of those wobbles (even if the carrying on involves some about of eye rolling) is a testament to humanity’s instinct to cooperate even when things are socially Rocky.

      2. I can understand that…but it’s possible to keep setting the bar high while still being professional and polite. There have been a few threads on their mailing list I’ve read where Linus just tore into a developer, full of cursing and personal attacks. By all means, call the code crap if it’s crap. But don’t call the developer a piece of crap because you don’t like the code they wrote. Reject the changes or tell them what they need to fix for them to be accepted. You can still do that politely.

      1. Yes. For a long time the reply from the gurus was “RTFM!!!” They didn’t want to be bothered dealing with mere mortals.

        Then again Linux was not meant to be a desktop OS for joe user but something that runs in the back office as a server or something else.

        1. It’s not even a case of the gurus being assholes. Tech support is hard, and there are countless hordes of people who want personal responses to trivial questions and refuse to do even a little reading for themselves. Help vampires like that burn out even the most generous expert.

          (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve provided links that answer a person’s question perfectly, they say “I still don’t understand”, and I copy and paste the page text *verbatim* and suddenly they’re “oh I get it now!” AAARGH)

          1. With commercial support costing what it does for some software, they deserve that kind of behaviour from their clients. We used to use a package that had literally a half ook case full of documentation, and for years I would be a good boy and RTFM. Than something changed. A trivial change but an important change. I got put in charge of our software support budgeting. It used to be taken care of by accounting, but in an effort to try and trim unnecessary expenses they figured IT was closer to dev and this was a dev package. Long story short, I discovered we were paying near $20K a year in support for each seat of this package and we had a *lot* of seats. After that, if I had a Q, it was not lets crack open the manual and look, it was let’s get something out of that >>$100K a year we are spending on these people. If the support was more like $200 a year I would have felt a whole lot different.

  2. Unfortunately when you personalize attacks on a contributors work, they don’t come back. Unless the problem child is sent packing, People who need rehabilitation, usually need to undergo the process several times.

    I wish them luck in moving forward while keeping the monkey on their back.

  3. Takes courage to admit ones own shortcommings in public. The kernel is his baby and I understand him being personally involved in defending it’s interests and progress. Fair play to him for taking a step back and re-evaluating his role, conduct and behaviour, I’m certain he’dd be stronger and more productive in the long run for doing so. I only wish every other CEO, politician, leader was as introspective and honest when self-evaluating their past decisions and actions.

    FOSS management is different from politics and corporate management in that long term planning/wizdom/common sense > decisiveness/impulsiveness/delivering short-term returns. CEOs need to deliver quarterly growth, politicians equally work on a short election cycle. leads to irresponsable decistions that pritorise immeadiate gains over sustainable growth. that’s why the environment’s shot and your pension fund vanishes the week before you retire…

    …this message was paid for by BILL HERD FOR PRESIDENT 2020!

    1. a) the environment is just fine, and b) you need to spell Bil’s name correctly if you want him on the ballot.

      On topic, I’m glad to see Linus dealing with this aspect of his personality. However, as others have pointed out, he is not alone, and a lot of us do and say similar things when defending our life’s work. We engineers put a lot of our self-worth into our work, for better or worse.

      1. haha, sorry Bil! I can’t spell.
        polluting the environment for short term gains is unwise.

        The environment might be fine where you are, but dumping your garbage over the fence where you can’t see it may be well and good today, but isn’t going to do you any favours in the long run. the problem is that short term orientated leaders are like dumping garbage over the wall in an airbnb, by the time anyone complains, you’re long gone. fuck the consequences.

  4. >will almost certainly have a Linux kernel somewhere, whether it’s in their phone, their set-top-box, their children’s toys, or even their domestic appliances

    You know, “There’s a kernel of Linux in it” would be a very good marketing phrase.

    1. I’ll be fine. These “SJW” people you are revering to are far to busy having their feeling hurt all over the place. Folks like that never ever really contribute anything consequential to something. There might be the odd kernel documentation contributor with a misplaced but innate sense of PC cult(ure), but no more than that surely.

      This is more about what we know about pleasant and productive workplaces in the real work, projected on more abstract notions like FOSS communities. Some things just generally make sense.

          1. I wouldn’t brush that off as inconsequential noise just yet, They are both written by the same person and both have the same ideals behind them. So the real question is: Who enforces the rules? It cant be a single person because that will just lead to tyranny. So then a group of people? who is going to be in that group and how will people be removed from and added to that group? Does the person who originally wrote the CoC that they are implementing have any say in the process?

            You see there are a lot of immediate questions that need to be fully sorted out and documented and if Coraline has any input other than being the originator of the CoC then anything else she has written is of consequence to the entire venture going forward.

        1. This is just Linux eating itself. You let autism develop too far, you end up with transexuals. Then because they’re still the same mouthy anti-social pain in the arse they always were, you get Tumblr transexuals. Then the dreaded bullshit of “privilege” battles between middle-class white people.

          There’s a long-suspected connection between programmers and autism. And autistics are massively over-proportionate in number among transsexuals. That’s actually a fact. So that means that this was an inevitable endpoint from the start of any project that employs large numbers of programmers, left to manage themselves. They just don’t have the personality for it. That’s why in Real Life they’re threatened with things like job loss or legal repercussions, to moderate their behaviour.

    2. “The SJWs have won”

      Clearly Linux is intended only for the edgiest man children and script kiddies in the darkest corner of their parents’ basements.

      How dare professionals volunteering their time and efforts expect communication and critiques to be something other than a string of personal insults akin to that of a 12 year old on Xbox live

    3. Yeah, this is a bit frightening. The person responsible for the CoC should have been banned if she followed her own rules. The fact that she’s not shows the CoC will only be used against the people of her choosing and that should have been a red flag

    4. Acting like an arrogant, self-entitled jerk with the emotional self-control of a three-year-old has never been acceptable. I had the unfortunate experience of helping a team that had a head coder like that, who ended up driving away vital people who had better things to do with their time than put up with his constant personal attacks. If my team wasn’t depending on what their team were doing, I would have walked, too. (The head of their team pulled me aside to apologize and explain that if anyone else was available who knew enough to replace him they would have; they were stuck with him as much as the rest of us were.) It sounds like Linus was much the same way, which goes a long way to explaining the elitist attitude I was subjected to when I first tried figuring out Linux fifteen years ago.

  5. I like “. . .taking the reigns . . .”
    If a strict hand is not applied to this kind of endeavor, chaos rapidly ensues. The kernel is the place in Linux where extreme attention to change must be paid. Linux is noisy enough!! without lots of noise in the foundation. Just think of a container ship that takes miles to stop or turn under full steam that has every member of the crew altering the steering all the time. Can’t work. Mr. Torvalds has successfully guided Linux for a long time under tough conditions. Good luck.

    1. “every member of the crew altering the steering all the time”

      There’s a lot of distance between that and yelling personal insults at a single person suggesting a course correction, due to their having made a minor navigation error, while the ship has plenty of space and time to correct the error without hitting anything. And the suggested course change probably wasn’t acted on yet anyway, so there’s nothing to fix.

  6. So, still too early to talk about array arguments in C? (Not that I’m for them)
    It’s hard to give up ownership of an open source baby you gave birth to. Threats to that project can easily be taken personally and I think Linus Torvalds has only been human in his reactions to perceived threats to his baby. Still those reactions drive others away. Instead of educating people as to the risks of some programming practices you take a teaching moment and turn people away from the project completely, even those not currently working on the project, even if you have a valid point (see what I did there).

      1. I saw what you did there…you made a flawed analogy. There are manual lathes, CNC lathes, and lathes that can be used both ways. Lathes have NOT been replaced by CNC, rather you can use CNC to control a lathe. Also, just because you can make some round things on a 3-axis mill doesn’t mean that you have replaced the lathe. There is the proper tool for the job.

  7. Horses for courses. Maybe you need somebody who is belligerent and single-minded in the formative stages of a project, not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, but maybe once it gets momentum and you start needing the input of more people, you need somebody who can build consensus.

    1. Build consensus yes, but this people need also to be able to flatly refuse some whackier ideas. Things need a captain in the steering wheel, and there is a reason why “designed by comitee” has earned a bad connotation.

  8. Linux is not only the kernel! The real father of Linux is Richard Stallman, a giant in the open source movement. Besides the kernel, there are hundreds of other projects, big and small.

  9. “The Hackaday community has a much greater than average proportion of Linux users among its readership. ”

    The percentage has definately been cultivated with the moderator’s negative attitude toward level-headed discussions on opensource’s shortcomings and their typically “I.T.” background, writing topics from a high level programmer’s perspective instead of that of from an electronic/mechanical/embedded hardware enthusist.

  10. Political Correctness will kill Linux: it allows shrewd communicators to turn the argument into a discussion about subjective ideas like etiquette, what is “acceptable”… One day they will wake up and their project will look like the current (wastefull) political environments of the world.

    1. There’s a large gulf between criticising an idea and attacking a person. Plenty of people manage to be strong leaders and exercise real control without being a raging asshole.

    2. It’s is ridiculous how many people are in a tizzy about the future of Linux because personal insults and paragraphs of diatribes will now be frowned upon

      Reallllllly makes me wonder how pleasant these folk would be to work with

  11. I’m not a linux guru, fanboy or whatever. I’ve mainly stayed on Windows because my job requires it.
    My opinion on the matter is, if you’re going to lower yourself to call someone else names etc. then that’s exactly what you
    are doing. Lowering yourself. If something is not to your liking in someone else’s code, a polite email explaining what is
    “wrong” and why you think it is, and a possible solution would be nice. So many times I’ve had other programmers look
    at my work, and laugh at it. When I challenged them to do better or show me the “correct” way to do something, then
    suddenly, they didn’t have time or some other excuse. This was over 40 years ago. Grandfather’s advice of “if you can’t
    say something nice, then don’t say anything at all” is quite true today. Criticism is free, but constructive criticism requires
    work. That’s the difference between the two. Hey, you can improve x by doing y, is a hell of a lot more helpful than your
    code sucks. Just my 2 cents. (Had to pay 3 for tax purposes,)

    1. If everyone was a “people” person, there wouldn’t be as big an issue. Besides machines are easier to get along with, and don’t give us any lip. And if they do we can take them apart.

      1. If everyone was a “people” person we wouldn’t have Linux, the internet or much of the engineered world we live in, and that is something the em-pathetic huggy feely types need to acknowledge. It is as if they are saying oh thanks for creating civilisation guys, now fzzt off, you are not wanted anymore and we don’t like you, yes your personality sux to us, what makes you you is now to be driven from the world that you created. Bad luck for all the feelies if all of the socially awkward nerds don’t like that and go on strike, telling “normal” people to fix their own machines for a change.

        1. Just as much as you feel that technical people have made the modern world the ‘huggy feely types’ have also made the modern world, without them it wouldn’t be possible to live in cities and combine our efforts. Essentially every ‘brilliant’ technical mind would have to make everything from the stone age for themselves every single time.

  12. I don’t stalk him or anything, hang on his every word, but a couple of times I thought his rants were on point, and a couple of times I thought he could be more diplomatic. I mean, it keeps everyone on their toes if they fear invoking the wrath of Linus. So kinda hope he keeps it in his back pocket as a blunt instrument to be wielded when absolutely necessary, but can find his day to day cruise control for chill.

    1. Generally he doesn’t like to waste time with stuff that should have been blocked/fixed before it crosses his desk. If something bad gets through then there was a failure somewhere in the chain of responsibility. So he doesn’t just make unprovoked attacks when he’s having a bad day like many people do – there’s a legitimate complaint, he just has a unhealthy way of expressing it.

      That said, it’s still completely possible to voice the strongest displeasure and objection without being an asshole; but it takes hard work to learn how to do it if it doesn’t come naturally.

  13. Bloody weird way of justifying taking a break after so many years, not that it bothers me, nor did his previous way of doing things. The man is a human and even with his quirks he is still a greater human that most. Without Linus knocking skulls together I predict the beginning of the end for Linux and the rise of an alternative within the next 5 years.

  14. If all of you believe that the way Linus did and said strange things, are annoying, consider this one: On the TUHS list, a chap who thought he knew more than one of the technology developers who wrote a considerable amount of code that is hiding inside Solaris, said and did that. He also attempted to make the guy feel like a real it did not work. The chap found himself removed from the list. The Linux Kernel will survive, it might take a year or two, but he’ll work things out, and still monitor things remotely. The fellow who is covering for Linus is the chap behind the USB protocol stack inside the kernel.

    Let’s not worry about it.

  15. I found Linus’ rants mostly entertaining, at least the ones that became public, and were about big companies.
    He nailed it most of the time.

    Having said that, I once wanted to write a kernel driver, but found the docs to be patchy and incomprehensible.
    When I joined the according mailing list, their members were completely 1337 douchebags, so I ended up writing a dirty hack, that worked for me, and not caring about anybody else.

  16. No doubt his vitriol has upset people and alienated developers, but I’ve contributed nothing to Linux while it has enriched my life considerably, so I have no right to tell the developers how to talk to each other. It reads like they’re doing that for themselves and Linus is making positive, inspiring changes.

  17. I wonder if this means kdbus will now be included in the kernel, as political correctness is more important than technical merits. (Those who don’t know, it was submitted by Greg KH, but rejected as being an insane kernel addition for things that can be better done in userspace, submitted to appease the SystemD developers.)

    This is the century of Homo sapiens becoming Homo stultus eusocial.

  18. So, the “linux community” decided that it no longer wants the best programmers. You can be the best coder in the world, but if you offend someone whose primary skill is being offended, your world-class code is not wanted.

    But, if you can’t code worth a damn but make everyone have good feels, you can rise to the top.

    This is why linux is doomed. Might be fast, might be slow, but it’s all downhill from here.

    1. How can a philosophy that has no barriers to sharing be “doomed”? Write the code. Put it out there. Good or not someone will put it to use, even if it’s just something to peek over while rewriting.

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