Linus Returns A Reformed Character UPDATE
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 29 October 2018

After the Linux Kernel Maintainers Summit, where he repeated his determination to behave in a more acceptable manner, Linus Torvalds is back in charge of the Linux kernel. He has already had occasion to try out his new more moderate mode of response while dealing with the 4.19 Merge window. 


Linus Torvald's "traditional" style of response was characterized by expletives and CAPS - i.e. shouting. It was often loaded with irony, which is perhaps too kind a way to describe it, and could even be considered amusing by outsiders not on the receiving end.

However, times change and the business world, along with the entertainment industry, politics and banking, is trying to eradicate offensive behavior, even when it comes from those at the top.

Having been shocked to discover how his brusque and brutal style impacted those around him, and threatened the future well being of the Linux project, Linus undertook to change. There was some concern that this might lead to him relaxing his exacting standards.

Within a week of his return to his role as Chief Linux maintainer we have three examples of him handling issues in a more restrained manner and which are also evidence that his expectations are just as high as ever.

The most serious issue dealt with over this weekend was an oops kernel page fault. Torvalds raised this in a thread "Oops in current tree in i2C" where he described the faulty behavior and suggests:

 I *think* the problem is that the i2c_hid_dmi_desc_override_table[]
isn't terminated by a NULL entry, and I will test that next.

He concludes his post with:

What makes me *very* unhappy about this is that if I'm right, I think it means that code was literally not tested at all by anybody who didn't have one of the entries in that list.

In his next post in the thread, Torvalds confirms that his test reveals the culprit but due to his restraint the issue is resolved without rancour with Jiri Kosina admitting:

Honestly, my autotesting of HID tree is running on HW that doesn't have i2c transport at all, only USB a Bluetooth. Something to improve I guess; will fix that next week.

The next revealing thread has the subject line Another HID problem this merge window ... and reads, in its entirety:

Ok, so this is a much smaller issue than the i2c one that cause boot problems, but it's annoying.

We do *not* enable new random drivers by default. And we most *definitely* don't do it when they are odd-ball ones that most people have never heard of.

Yet the new "BigBen Interactive" driver that was added this merge window did exactly that.

Just don't do it.

Yes, yes, every developer always thinks that _their_ driver is so special and so magically important that it should be enabled by default. But no. When we have thousands of drivers, we don't randomly pick one new driver to be enabled by default just because some developer thinks it is special. It's not.

So the default !EXPERT was completely wrong in commit 256a90ed9e46 ("HID: hid-bigbenff:driver for BigBen Interactive PS3OFMINIPAD gamepad").

Please don't do things like this.


So, despite this being an old and oft repeated complaint, no profanity and even a "please".

I'm even more impressed by the follow up. Joe Perches replies with:

In fairness, it seems many of the HID drivers do exactly that and this could have been a "copy from example" addition.

To which Linus responds:

Interesting, and I think you're right.

I wonder why I haven't noticed this before. Some of those might be hidden by other dependencies - what I do is to just check how "make oldconfig" changes my normal fairly minimal configuration, and then complain when I notice that somebody enables some odd new hardware.

I wonder if there is some truly old historical legacy there, ie the old PC keyboard support would have been configurable out only for expert users to avoid errors, and maybe the HID Kconfig file started getting ideas from that...

Finally the thread Logitech high-resolution scrolling.. initiated by Torvalds seems to be a model example of courteous behaviour. In his initial message he observes:

So the recent change to enable the high-res scrolling really seems a bit *too* extreme.

Is there some middle ground that turns the mouse from "look at it sideways and it starts scrolling" to something slightly more reasonable?

Next he notes

Actually, I think the bug may be in the generic HID high-resolution scrolling code, and I only notice because the Logitech support means that now I see it.

Having come up with a patch, Linus advises:

I committed my patch, as it at least makes the scroll wheel usable.

I'm more than open to further improvements ...

Having spent the last forty minutes trawling through recent  messages on the Linux Kernel email list I'm daunted and overwhelmed by the task Linus Torvald's faces. It has been his sole responsibility to deal with Pull requests that affect the Kernel and these range from trivial to vastly complicated. As reported in the original news item, see below, while most of these come from experienced Kernel developers, in total about 1000 different individuals per year suggest patches. Not only does Linus deal with these, he also responds - admittedly often with the one word "Pulled" - but it still part of his workload.

There must be a better way to run an operating system as important as Linux.

Original Story - 24th October

Tension among the Linux community became public knowledge last month when Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux and the person who steered it to its current position of world domination, announced his intention to take a break and handed over finishing the Linux 4.19 release to Greg Kroah-Hartman.

The immediate run-up to Torvald's decision to step aside from his day-to-day duties was when it emerged his travel plans meant he would not be attending the Maintainers Summit in Vancouver - and so the entire meeting (involving around 40 peopled) was relocated to Edinburgh. As a side-effect a lot of negativity about Torvald's style of leadership was unleashed which prompted him to issue an apology and a commitment to behave differently in future, including seeking help and the use of a personal email filter that would detect and eliminate curse words in his outgoing communications, if you missed it see our report.

Torvald's absence was always intended to be temporary and it seems he has indeed it to discover how to understand people's emotions and respond appropriately. As he told ZDNet's :

"I expect it to be a continuing process, but for now I have an email filter in place (that might be expanded upon or modified as needed or as I come up with more esoteric swearing -- the current filter is really pretty basic). And I have been talking weekly with a professional." 

Having overseen the release of Linux 4.19 as temporary leader of the project Greg Kroah-Hartman wrote in its announcement: 

"Linus, I'm handing the kernel tree back to you. You can have the joy of dealing with the merge window :)"

He also had some words of advice, addressed to the entire community but possibly directed at Linus: 

We all need to remember that, every year new people enter our community with the goal, or requirement, to get stuff done for their job, their hobby, or just because they want to help contribute to the tool that has taken over the world and enabled everyone to have a solid operating system base on which to build their dreams.

And when they come into our community, they don't have the built-in knowledge of years of experience that thousands of us already do.Without that experience they make mistakes and fumble and have to learn how this all works. Part of learning how things work is dealing with the interaction between people, and trying to understand the basic social norms and goals that we all share. By providing a document in the kernel source tree that shows that all people, developers and maintainers alike, will be treated with respect and dignity while working together, we help to create a more welcome community to those newcomers, which our very future depends on if we all wish to see this project succeed at its goals.

And that goal we all share is the key here. We _ALL_ want to create the best kernel that we possibly can. We can disagree on lots of different things in other parts of our lives, but we do share this one thing. And we should focus on that shared goal as it has pulled us all together in a way that has enabled us to create something that no other company or group of people has ever been able to accomplish.

In a video clip recorded by ZDNet, Linus appears to respond to this explaining that he receives patches from around 1000 each year, only a small number of whom will go on to join the community. Hopefully, having been able to delegate to Kroah-Hartman on this occasion, Linus will be able to share the burden of the dealing with this deluge of code.



More Information

Linux 4.19 announcement

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Last Updated ( Monday, 29 October 2018 )