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Linux Foundation begins clampdown on Torvalds

The Linux Foundation has begun an apparent clampdown on Linux creator Linus Torvalds, with a "code of conflict" being drafted and accepted into the kernel community.

The so-called patch was written by Linux Foundation technical advisory board member Greg Kroah-Hartman, who is also an employee of the Foundation, and has the support of a number of kernel developers. It is apparently aimed at dealing with incidents when Torvalds — or any other kernel developer — is uncivil to a fellow developer.

Torvalds accepted the patch with a perfunctory "let's see how this works".

The code reads as under:

  • The Linux kernel development effort is a very personal process compared to "traditional" ways of developing software. 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.
  • If however, anyone feels personally abused, threatened, or otherwise uncomfortable due to this process, that is not acceptable. If so, please contact the Linux Foundation's Technical Advisory Board at <tab@lists.linux-foundation.org>, or the individual members, and they will work to resolve the issue to the best of their ability. For more information on who is on the Technical Advisory Board and what their role is, please see: http://www.linuxfoundation.org/programs/advisory-councils/tab
  • As a reviewer of code, please strive to keep things civil and focused on the technical issues involved. We are all humans, and frustrations can be high on both sides of the process. Try to keep in mind the immortal words of Bill and Ted, "Be excellent to each other."

In January, another member of the Foundation's advisory board, Matthew Garrett, baited Torvalds at the Australian national Linux conference, asking why the Linux creator was often unpleasant to kernel contributors, claiming that this had led to many people stepping back from being contributors.

Torvalds answer was straighforward as usual, telling Garrett that he did not care about individuals, only about the kernel and the technology. He also mentioned that diversity was not about gender and skin colour; "...people are different in what they are interested in, different in what they are good at, skin colour and gender and all these issues that get brought up as really important things – those are details."

The incident led to a bitter Twitter attack on Torvalds by Shanley Kane, founder of tech and culture essay publisher Model View Culture.

Also on the Foundation advisory board is Sarah Sharp, Linux kernel xHCI driver maintainer at Intel, who launched a pre-planned attack on Torvalds over his habit of occasionally blasting developers who make errors. A third member of the Foundation advisory board, Jonathan Corbett, the vice-chair, posted this on his news website, LWN, as well.

With so many Linux Foundation members involved in this, and the same Foundation paying Torvalds' salary, one wonders at the number of conflicts of interest involved.

Garrett has been trying to promote himself as a leader in the FOSS commmunity for nearly a decade and has now even manoeuvred his way onto the board of the Free Software Foundation, an organisation of which he has been a bitter critic in the past.

The Foundation's chief executive Jim Zemlin has added his usual spin to the mix, editorialising, "The Linux Foundation is happy to see these guidelines and is supportive of the mediation process. We will work directly with the Linux Foundation Technical Advisory Board to provide whatever support they need in implementing this process. We believe the guidelines are grounded in the unique culture and process that makes Linux so successful. Conflict over code will and should happen. But the Code is very clear that personal insults or abuse are not welcome."

Torvalds is now nearing 50, the age at which people, especially in the US and more so in the technology industry there, tend to be comsidered as being over the hill. Thus it is not surprising to see this move.

People in the FOSS community are famous for masking more Machiavellian objectives under the guise of "be excellent to everyone", a timeworn phrase that is bandied about by the most power-hungry and bigoted individuals.

They push the silly view that the Linux kernel project and other FOSS projects should be some kind of utopia where everyone is treated equally and talent is recognised. The truth is, there is vicious and bitter jockeying for position in the FOSS community and people are as cut-throat as in any other technology community.

Torvalds is one of the few people in the FOSS community who has the honesty and integrity that these others claim to have. And the way he has managed the kernel project is wholly responsible for its success.

Mediocre people are always the most ambitious and the FOSS community is no exception. It will be interesting to see the next moves in what is clearly an attempt to undermine Torvalds and try to undercut his leadership. In the end, the ones who crave power could end up doing a Samson on the FOSS community.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.