70 votes

Linus Torvalds apologizes for personal attacks in emails and announces he's taking time off from kernel development

19 comments

  1. [10]
    NeoTheFox
    Link
    Oh no, they broke Linus. His rants were usually deserved and it helped to keep the developers at bay, but I knew that sooner or later as Linux grows in popularity he would have to tone it down....

    Oh no, they broke Linus. His rants were usually deserved and it helped to keep the developers at bay, but I knew that sooner or later as Linux grows in popularity he would have to tone it down. Banter is great thing, but once the workplace gets dull and corporate it goes away, and this is an unfortunate reality of an ever growing project. RIP Linus rants, they would missed.

    31 votes
    1. [8]
      Yudhayvavhay
      Link Parent
      They were certainly fun to read but I think it drove off a lot of very skilled people from Linux kernel development, not to mention the potential ripple effect. By ripple effect, I mean this, from...

      They were certainly fun to read but I think it drove off a lot of very skilled people from Linux kernel development, not to mention the potential ripple effect.

      By ripple effect, I mean this, from a outsider perspective: Linux is seen the symbol of FOSS development for people who aren't used to open-source, so if the leader of the Linux yells at people when they make a mistake, why shouldn't the leaders of lesser(smaller?) projects? And why should I volunteer if I'm getting yelled at?

      I know this isn't how it is, but it could happen.
      The same end result of keeping bad code away could be achieved by denying it strongly, but politely and wouldn't drive away developers. To be clear, I'm not blaming Linus for this, I know he only yells at people who should know better, but that doesn't matter if you're getting yelled at.

      36 votes
      1. [6]
        trunicated
        Link Parent
        I'm of the opinion that if you can't take harsh criticism on your work, even when it's peppered with stringent language about your thinking process, and divorce that from your self worth and use...

        They were certainly fun to read but I think it drove off a lot of very skilled people from Linux kernel development, not to mention the potential ripple effect.

        I'm of the opinion that if you can't take harsh criticism on your work, even when it's peppered with stringent language about your thinking process, and divorce that from your self worth and use it to improve, then you really have no business modify the core code of an operating system that runs on billions of devices.

        And let's be honest about when Linus yells. It's not when just anyone makes a simple mistake, we're talking about developers that are supposed to have extremely detailed insight into what sort of change they're making who have worked with one of Linus' lieutenants. These aren't junior developers that are on the receiving end of these tirades, they're professionals working on critical code that should know better than the mistakes they make. It's like when you go to someone's house and they make you a steak and it's the wrong temperature. You don't yell at them, you don't get angry, you might not even bring it up, because it's not important and can be easy to work around. But if you're some Michelin Star chef and you're eating dinner at your own restaurant, and someone serves you a steak that's the wrong temperature, you're a fool if you don't chastise them, because their subpar work, however infrequent or minor, not only makes your name look worse, but if it were to become the norm, would lead to your product being worse.

        I personally think it's okay to yell at that chef, and I think it's okay that Linus does the same to contributors that present him with something he finds would be a detriment to the overall Linux system. In that context, with that much on the line, a developer should be adverse to wasting his time because, let's be honest, it's probably more valuable.

        15 votes
        1. [5]
          qbee
          Link Parent
          It baffles me how many people defend abusive behavior, I read about this on reddit and came here to read what sensible people have to say about the issue, and it's the same thing! You can easily...

          I'm of the opinion that if you can't take harsh criticism on your work, even when it's peppered with stringent language about your thinking process, and divorce that from your self worth and use it to improve, then you really have no business modify the core code of an operating system that runs on billions of devices.

          It baffles me how many people defend abusive behavior, I read about this on reddit and came here to read what sensible people have to say about the issue, and it's the same thing!

          You can easily twist this around: If you can't strongly criticize somebodies software contribution without attacking the contributor personally, then you have no business overseeing such a vital project!

          I think if you take shitty code apart you can easily make somebody feel that they did something very wrong, you don't need to insult them for that.

          Disclaimer: I'm not a contributor myself and haven't seen too many rants and what they were about.

          30 votes
          1. [3]
            trunicated
            Link Parent
            That's the difference between you and me, I think. I don't find this abusive. Do I think he could be nicer about it? Sure, but the things I've seen make news headlines are generally things worth...

            It baffles me how many people defend abusive behavior, I read about this on reddit and came here to read what sensible people have to say about the issue, and it's the same thing!

            That's the difference between you and me, I think. I don't find this abusive. Do I think he could be nicer about it? Sure, but the things I've seen make news headlines are generally things worth getting upset over. Pushing changes to stable that haven't been tested or the entire Spectre fiasco are, in my opinion, events worthy of derision. If I subverted the quality checks at work, I'd get yelled at by my boss, and if I kept doing it, I'd get fired, and my company would be right to do that. I view Linus' rants as a similar deterrent.

            You can easily twist this around: If you can't strongly criticize somebodies software contribution without attacking the contributor personally, then you have no business overseeing such a vital project!

            You're right, any personal attack he makes is unwarranted. I think we may disagree on what a personal attack is, however. If I said "this code is complete shit, I can't believe you would want to submit this." is that a personal attack? I see that as an (extreme) way of saying "This is subpar, you should know better than to submit work of this quality." whereas someone else may see it as "You're terrible at this, why are you even trying?"

            Again, personally, I would be okay with receiving that sort of feedback. But I'll concede that the fact that it requires disambiguation like this means that it's not the best way to phrase critical feedback, and I bet (and hope) the messaging is what Linus is attempting to fix, and not the actual content of the message itself.

            14 votes
            1. [2]
              qbee
              Link Parent
              It's good that you mention this and I agree to a large extend. What you mentioned is not a personal attack, it's maybe rough language, but it's not insulting the person writing the code. I was...

              It's good that you mention this and I agree to a large extend. What you mentioned is not a personal attack, it's maybe rough language, but it's not insulting the person writing the code.

              I was thinking of stuff like 'you should retroactively aborted' or similar things, and I believe that we can agree that this is completely unnecessary. I'm on mobile right now but will look up exact quotes later on.

              Edit: there you go: https://lkml.org/lkml/2012/7/6/495

              7 votes
              1. ThisIs_MyName
                Link Parent
                Even that rant doesn't sound so bad if you consider that it wasn't directed at a specific person. The author of the bad userspace code isn't on LKML and I doubt that even they think reading 1 byte...

                Even that rant doesn't sound so bad if you consider that it wasn't directed at a specific person. The author of the bad userspace code isn't on LKML and I doubt that even they think reading 1 byte at a time is a good idea.

          2. unknown user
            Link Parent
            His "rants" are those of a gifted but angry teenager. I'm always surprised that the response to that is never "mind your manners" or "stfu", but almost always apologies and humility. If I wrote...

            His "rants" are those of a gifted but angry teenager. I'm always surprised that the response to that is never "mind your manners" or "stfu", but almost always apologies and humility. If I wrote similar rants on a similar subreddit I would get banned. But he has the name which helps him get away.

            It's not about the content because he generally seems to be correct technically, but the delivery is the worse I have seen in FOSS.

            12 votes
      2. rkcr
        Link Parent
        To me, driving people away from Linux kernel dev is almost the lesser issue. The bigger issue to me is how his behavior enabled so many others to behave just like him. Even if you weren't involved...

        To me, driving people away from Linux kernel dev is almost the lesser issue. The bigger issue to me is how his behavior enabled so many others to behave just like him. Even if you weren't involved with Linux development at all, you could justify behavior by saying "well, Linus a jerk, but he's smart enough to get away with it - therefore it's okay if I do that, too."

        10 votes
    2. spit-evil-olive-tips
      Link Parent
      I'm hopeful his rants will return, but toned-down. Having strong opinions about code quality and architecture is an important part of the BDFL role. But Linus frequently let his rants bleed over...

      I'm hopeful his rants will return, but toned-down. Having strong opinions about code quality and architecture is an important part of the BDFL role. But Linus frequently let his rants bleed over into personal attacks on the developers, which is where the line should be. That can alienate contributors, and making sure that doesn't happen is also an important thing for BDFLs to do.

      22 votes
  2. [2]
    Wes
    Link
    It takes courage to admit fault, and his occasionally-abusive rants were certainly a fault. Good on him for recognizing the problem and working to correct it. The time off is well-deserved.

    It takes courage to admit fault, and his occasionally-abusive rants were certainly a fault. Good on him for recognizing the problem and working to correct it. The time off is well-deserved.

    28 votes
    1. zoec
      Link Parent
      I came here to say basically this. To "look into the mirror" is hard emotional and intellectual work, and it's one of the most awesome things about humans. Linus can use all the time and patience...

      I came here to say basically this. To "look into the mirror" is hard emotional and intellectual work, and it's one of the most awesome things about humans.

      Linus can use all the time and patience he deserves. I hope he'll be with supportive and caring people, too, which will make a lot difference during the journey of self-reflection.

      11 votes
  3. Emerald_Knight
    Link
    I'm actually really impressed with this response. I've seen a lot of public non-apologies, and odds are Linus could easily have said nothing and allowed the status quo to continue with minimal...

    I'm actually really impressed with this response. I've seen a lot of public non-apologies, and odds are Linus could easily have said nothing and allowed the status quo to continue with minimal backlash, but he gave a genuine response that says "I have a problem, this is what I did wrong, this is what I'm going to do to address it, and here's what I'm doing right now to prove it".

    Good on him. I hope he can come out of this feeling better about the person he sees in the proverbial mirror.

    12 votes
  4. [3]
    super_james
    Link
    I wonder if he'll stop saying stuff like this: https://lkml.org/lkml/2018/3/20/845 To me it reads as high praise and gentle joshing, on the other hand suggesting someone has a diseased mind...

    I wonder if he'll stop saying stuff like this: https://lkml.org/lkml/2018/3/20/845

    To me it reads as high praise and gentle joshing, on the other hand suggesting someone has a diseased mind presumably breaks the new CoC?

    4 votes
    1. [2]
      apoctr
      Link Parent
      I think the context makes it clear that is praise and not a personal attack. However if the mentioned person thought they were being insulted, all it should take is a clarifying email from Linus...

      I think the context makes it clear that is praise and not a personal attack. However if the mentioned person thought they were being insulted, all it should take is a clarifying email from Linus to resolve the issue - "oh, sorry, didn't realise it came across that way".

      5 votes
      1. super_james
        Link Parent
        Sure, my musing was more "Will he self censure this kind of exchange after he returns".

        Sure, my musing was more "Will he self censure this kind of exchange after he returns".

        1 vote
  5. [3]
    est
    Link
    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=6907 Something doesn't seem right.

    http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=6907

    Something doesn't seem right.

    1 vote
    1. [2]
      anowlcalledjosh
      Link Parent
      Is there context I'm missing? Why is a three year old blogpost from ESR warning "open-source leader[s]" that they should be excessively paranoid about being alone with women relevant?

      Is there context I'm missing? Why is a three year old blogpost from ESR warning "open-source leader[s]" that they should be excessively paranoid about being alone with women relevant?

      15 votes
      1. est
        Link Parent
        and now this https://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/9go8cp/ I don't think Linus's email as a standalone case. Technical communities certainly can not hold apolitical position any longer.

        and now this

        https://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/9go8cp/

        I don't think Linus's email as a standalone case. Technical communities certainly can not hold apolitical position any longer.

        1 vote