Linux kernel developer Sarah Sharp publicly lambasted Linus Torvalds for his habitual use of abusive language on Monday, precipitating a lengthy, contentious exchange about civility and professionalism.
Torvalds, who created the Linux kernel in 1991 and has served as its maintainer since, has a long history of vituperative public outbursts, particularly in the context of Linux Kernel Mailing List discussions. He makes no bones about this habit, bemoaning what he calls “political correctness” for making his rants into an issue.
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Sharp – a kernel contributor who is employed as a Linux software engineer by Intel – slammed Torvalds and fellow developer Ingo Molnar in an LKML discussion.
“Seriously, guys? Is this what we need in order to get improve [the stable version of the kernel]? Linus Torvalds is advocating for physical intimidation and violence. Ingo Molnar and Linus are advocating for verbal abuse. Not *f**king* cool. Violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse is not acceptable. Keep it professional on the mailing lists,” she wrote. (Link obviously contains profanity.)
The ensuing discussion was heated, though remarkably free of outright enmity. And it seems to have borne some fruit, in the form of a possible session at the forthcoming Linux Kernel Summit. (This year’s event is scheduled to begin on Oct. 23 in Edinburgh.)
Torvalds is the most visible symbol of the civility issue in the world of free and open-source software – whether he’s telling Nvidia “f**k you” in a public forum, advising OpenSUSE security developers to kill themselves, or labeling a disagreement about a patch request a “****-sucking contest” – and often acts as a lightning rod for criticism.
Many don’t have a problem with Torvalds’ style of communication, saying that it at least gets the point across effectively and doesn’t leave room for ambiguity – a critical concern for developing in a big online community.
“Linus has high expectations, and I think the quality of Linux code speaks volumes about the long-term effect of that,” wrote Alex Elder in the LKML thread. “Blistering messages from Linus are directed at people who have an established reputation, but who present something less than high-caliber work.”
Sharp is far from alone in opposing this view, however.
“I think that it’s hurting Linux and in particular it’s hurting attracting new talents,” said Stefano Stabellini. “Not just devs for hire but people passionate about what they do and eager to become more involved in the project.”
Email Jon Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.