Linux Adopts New Code of Conduct; Linus Apologizes and Takes a Break
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 17 September 2018

Linus Torvalds is taking a break from his role as chief Linux maintainer. This isn't because he wants to stop Linux kernel development, but because he wants help on how to behave differently - more in line with the new Linux Code of Conduct.

Linus Torvalds is known for plain speaking and for being blunt to the point of being rude. However, it seems that until now he hadn't realized the negative effect this had on those around him.

Now, it seems he has had a change of heart and wants time off in which to:

get some assistance on how to understand people's emotions and respond appropriately.

Last week when we reported how the Linux Maintainer's conference was to be re-located so that Linus could attend, despite Linus suggesting the event could go ahead without him, we jokingly added:

Poor Linus, he goes to all this trouble to get one year off the maintainer's conference and it follows him to his attempted escape destination! 

It now seems that wasn't far from the truth. In the email with the subject line, Linux 4.19-rc4 released, an apology, and a maintainership note, Linus admits:

I was somewhat embarrassed about having screwed up my calendar, but honestly, I was mostly hopeful that I wouldn't have to go to the kernel summit that I have gone to every year for just about the last two decades.

It also seems that the mistake acted as a wake up call and a catalyst to change.

As Linus explains in the email:

So here we are, me finally on the one hand realizing that it wasn't actually funny or a good sign that I was hoping to just skip the yearly kernel summit entirely, and on the other hand realizing that I really had been ignoring some fairly deep-seated feelings in the community.

It's one thing when you can ignore these issues. Usually it’s just something I didn't want to deal with.

This is my reality. 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 realize (for years) how badly I've judged a situation and contributed to an unprofessional environment is not good.

He continues with what is a genuine apology:

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 behavior, and I want to apologize to the people that my personal behavior hurt and possibly drove away from kernel development entirely.

It is at this point Linus announces he's going to take time off. He notes that he can afford to do so since Linus 4.19 has arrived at a calm period of its development and that Greg [Kroah-Hartman] will takeover finishing 4.19. He also asserts that his need for a break in temporary (unlike Guido van Rossum's decision to give up being Python's BDFL on a permanent basis) and that he does want to continue with the project, saying:

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.

Linus concludes this email with:

I look forward to seeing you at the Maintainer Summit.



Shortly before hitting the send button on this email, Linus had done a commit to the Linux Kernel source tree with the heading:

 Code of Conduct Let's Revamp it. 

This document has as author Greg Kroah-Hartman and is signed off by six other Linux luminaries. It presents a new Code of Conduct to replace the existing Code of Conflict in which code quality and robustness is placed well ahead of individuals and  their sensibilities as is obvious in the extract:

Your code and ideas behind it will be carefully reviewed, often resulting in critique and criticism. The review will almost always require improvements to the code before it can be included in the kernel. Know that this happens because everyone involved wants to see the best possible solution for the overall success of Linux. This development process has been proven to create the most robust operating system kernel ever, and we do not want to do anything to cause the quality of submission and eventual result to ever decrease. 

The newly adopted replacement is based on the Contributor Covenant from Released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public Licence and now at v1.4.1, this Code of Conduct has already been adopted by over 40,000 open source projects. It seeks to address the problem of lack of diversity in open source and most definitely puts people and their feelings first: 

... welcoming all people to contribute, and pledging in return to value them as human beings and to foster an atmosphere of kindness, cooperation, and understanding.

Insulting and derogatory comments are included in its examples of bad behavior and, under the code, maintainers have the responsibility to take appropriate and fair corrective action in response to any instances of unacceptable behavior.

Having both signed off this document and being its committer, Linus is bound to desist from bad language - whether contemptuous or profane. His idea of automated personal filter system for emails seems a really good one.

To external observers, Linus Torvald's outbursts seemed both appalling and amusing, but could be overlooked because of the obvious achievement that Linux represents. People he interacted with on a regular basis must have found it much harder to put up with this behavior that he was allowed to get away with.

We recently reported on Stack Overflow adopting a code of conduct to formalize and enforce a policy of "kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect." This type of contract is even more crucial in open source. In situations that rely on volunteers and co-operation, interpersonal relations matter and this message does seem to have got through, however belatedly, to Linus.

Let's hope people will react with "Apology accepted" and cut him some slack while he finds a new style. 



More Information

Email from Linus Torvalds

Code of Conduct Let's Revamp it

Related Articles

Linus Books Wrong Flight So Conference Moves

Linus On Linux And Strong Language 

GCC Gets An Award From ACM And A Blast From Linus        

Linus Torvalds Receives IEEE Computer Pioneer Award       

Linus Torvalds interview - the early years       

Linus Torvalds is now a US Citizen  

Stack Overflow Adopts New Code of Conduct 

Guido van Rossum Quits As Python BDFL 


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Last Updated ( Monday, 17 September 2018 )