There’s an interesting public spat going on in the world of Linux, where a Linux programmer from Intel, Sarah Sharp, has picked a fight with the Linux creator himself: Linus Torvalds.
She wants him to stop swearing at people and to treat people with more respect.
Torvalds, the creator and overlord of Linux, is a well-known potty mouth and a sharp-tongued dude that has notorious tantrums on the Linux Kernal Mailing List (LKML), the forum where Linux developers discuss their work.
He’s also brilliant, funny, and not at all a bad guy. He just doesn’t put up with ideas, code, or people that fall short of his vey high expectations.
In some ways, his brash personality has helped shaped the entire world of open source software development. It’s an egalitarian world where anyone who has an opinion can freely express it. Technical discussions often devolve into passionate verbal fist-fights complete with insults.
For instance, employees at the biggest commercial Linux company, Red Hat, have been known to call their CEO an idiot to his face .. and he’s good with that.
But Sharp is fed up with it. Particularly on the LKML where Torvalds has said things like this to people:
“Mauro, SHUT THE F— UP! … Shut up, Mauro. And I don’t _ever_ want to hear that kind of obvious garbage and idiocy from a kernel maintainer again. Seriously. … Fix your f—ing “compliance tool”, because it is obviously broken. And fix your approach to kernel programming.”
(Torvalds was angry because he thought the programmer was blaming someone else for his own bug.)
When Torvalds and others were joking about the amount of yelling at people that happens on the mailing list and teasingly encouraging another Linux big-wig, Greg Kroah Hartman, to do more of it, Sharp weighed in with disgust:
“Seriously, guys? Is this what we need in order to get improve -stable? Linus Torvalds is advocating for physical intimidation and violence. Ingo Molnar and Linus are advocating for verbal abuse. Not *f—ing* cool. Violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse is not acceptable. Keep it professional on the mailing lists.”
She also posted about it to her blog, The Geekess:
“I’m standing up against verbal abuse on LKML. I will happily stand alone, however you can also support this cause. Please speak up, either by resharing this post, or commenting on this post with words of support. If you dare, you can also reply to my LKML email.“
She’s had her share of people join her. For instance Neil Brown, a developer for a commercial version of Linux called SUSE, likened some of these LMKL rants to “one person bullying another. Really, it isn’t nice to watch.”
So Torvald’s responded, with a long and fairly insightful rant on the nature of human relationships.
But first, he called Sharp’s call for civility “Bull—t.”
“The thing is, the ‘victim card’ is exactly about trying to enforce your particular expectations on others, and trying to do so in a very particular way,” he wrote, adding:
“People are different. I’m not polite, and I get upset easily but generally don’t hold a grudge – I have these explosive emails. And that works well for some people. And it probably doesn’t work well with you. And you know what? That’s fine. Not everybody had to get along or work well with each other. But the fact that it doesn’t work with you doesn’t make it ‘wrong.'”
So, the upshot is Torvalds is not going to bow to peer pressure and change his personality, any more than he’s going to stop working on Linux while wearing a bathrobe, he says.
We reached out to Sharp for comment.
The whole thing is food for thought, though. Is civility always the best way for people to interact? Or, if you force it on people, is that just another form of abuse?
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