Linux kernel creator and maintainer Linus Torvalds has apologised for his oft irascible attitude when faced with what he believes to be a departure from the ideals of Linux development, and has announced both a code of conduct for the project and his temporary departure from active involvement.
When Linus Torvalds announced the Linux project back in 1991, on a newsgroup for the Minix operating system, it came with a promise he proved unable to keep: 'I'm doing a (free) operating system,' he wrote, 'just a hobby, won't be big and professional like GNU'. That 'hobby' operating system now powers everything from routers and switches through to supercomputers, and while its impact on the desktop has been in single-digit percentages as it struggled to convince people to the benefits of moving away from Microsoft's Windows, it accounts for around 97 percent of the web servers powering the most popular domains in the world and 100 percent of the top 500 supercomputers in the world. Linux is big business, with billions of dollars on the line - but, Torvalds admits, his approach hasn't always echoed the shift from its origins as a personal hobby project.
'I am not an emotionally empathetic kind of person and that probably doesn't come as a big surprise to anybody. Least of all me. The fact that I then misread people and don't realise (for years) how badly I've judged a situation and contributed to an unprofessional environment is not good,' Torvalds writes in an announcement to the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML). 'This week people in our community confronted me about my lifetime of not understanding emotions. 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 above is basically a long-winded way to get to the somewhat painful personal admission that hey, I need to change some of my behaviour, and I want to apologise to the people that my personal behaviour hurt and possibly drove away from kernel development entirely.'
That Torvalds' attitude can cause problems for the wider community should not come as a surprise: The image for this articles comes from a presentation in which Torvalds literally said 'fuck you' to Linux Foundation member company Nvidia, while perceived transgressions to the Linux kernel development process - in particular from people who Torvalds believe should know better - frequently receive multi-paragraph foul-mouthed tirades from the project lead.
Torvalds' solution is bipartite: The introduction of a code of conduct, to which he himself will be held; and a break from active Linux kernel development, with second-in-command Greg Kroah-Hartman taking over in Torvalds' absence. 'This is not some kind of "I'm burnt out, I need to just go away" break,' Torvalds claims. 'I'm not feeling like I don't want to continue maintaining Linux. Quite the reverse. I very much do want to continue to do this project that I've been working on for almost three decades. This is more like the time I got out of kernel development for a while because I needed to write a little tool called "git". I need to take a break to get help on how to behave differently and fix some issues in my tooling and workflow.
'And yes, some of it might be "just" tooling. Maybe I can get an email filter in place so at when I send email with curse-words, they just won't go out. Because hey, I'm a big believer in tools, and at least _some_ problems going forward might be improved with simple automation. I know when I really look "myself in the mirror" it will be clear it's not the only change that has to happen, but hey... You can send me suggestions in email.'
Torvalds' full email, plus the discussion that followed, can be found on the Linux Kernel Mailing List.
February 24 2020 | 12:00