Linus Torvalds, the inventor of the Linux operating system, is a bona fide genius. He’s also a regular guy, and not nearly the kind of monster he’s been made out to be.
But he doesn’t suffer fools, he loves four-letter words, and has a huge sense of humour. And that combination has gotten him into increasing amounts of hot water over the years. To which he’s mostly responded with the kind of colour he’s known for.
On Monday, the Linux Foundation kinda sorta slapped him on the wrist when they issued a new “Code of Conflict” policy that declared “personal insults or abuse are not welcome.”
This comes after Torvalds’ latest brouhaha in January went viral.
Torvalds was speaking at a Linux conference in New Zealand when people asked him about his infamous insult-laden rants on the Linux mailing list (the main way that Linux is worked on), and about diversity in the Linux world (where women and minorities are appallingly scarce).
I’m not a nice person, and I don’t care about you. I care about the technology and the kernel — that’s what’s important to me … all that [diversity] stuff is just details and not really important.
His remarks caused an outpouring of reactions from programmers. Some said that Torvalds’s infamous “abusive” behaviour on the Linux mailing list have made them avoid being part of the Linux world.
This was only the latest in a long list of episodes where he’s been publicly called out over this stuff. Back in 2013, Intel programmer Sarah Sharp took a stand against it and told him to knock it off. Torvald’s responded with an insightful rant on the nature of human relationships and labelled Sharp’s call for civility “Bull—t.”
After the episode in January, however, Torvald was more contrite. He didn’t apologise but he did write a letter to the publication that broke the story, Ars Technica, to better explain his comments, admitting: “I also understand that other people are driven away by cursing and crass language when it all gets a bit too carried away.”
He suggested in that letter that the open source world might need more “people who are good at mediating,” as opposed to asking developers to behave themselves.
And that’s exactly what this “Code of Conflict” policy does. It says that if “anyone feels personally abused, threatened, or otherwise uncomfortable” while working on Linux, they should report the situation to the Technical Advisory Board who will step in and mediate.
Interestingly, Torvalds was not the one to write this policy. His right-hand man, Greg Kroah-Hartman, wrote it and cutely submitted it as a “patch” to the Linux system.
That meant that the ultimate keeper of Linux, Torvalds, had to see the “patch” and approve it, which he did, adding the public comment, “Let’s see how this works.”
For a flavour of the kind of abuse a programmer might experience from Torvalds, take a look at this rant Torvalds posted on Friday on Google+ at the Android team when they updated the calendar in the latest version of Android. (Android is based on Linux.)
Congratulations are in order to the Google Lollipop Calendar team.
This is the team that thought that it was a good idea to introduce the “google calendar week” – that special five-day week that starts at random points in the old-fashioned 7-day calendar.
Because that is the kind of bold experimentation we want for our calendars. Look at Julius Caesar – with the introduction of the julian calendar he really put his stamp on history, and guaranteed that his name still lives on, two thousand years later.
The Lollipop Calendar team dreamed big, and wanted to play in the same league. Bold move, team! Stupid, but bold.
But then the drugs wore off, and finally somebody seems to have realised that the whole point of a calendaring application is actually to be useful in a world where you interact with all those odd old-fashioned people who still think that a week has a boring seven days.
Guys, you looked immensely stupid there for a while. But today I got a calendar update, and the weeks are seven days again, and pinch-to-zoom works again.
I congratulate you on getting off the bad drugs, and not looking quite as f*cking stupid as you did there for several months.