Li­nus Tor­valds is Tak­ing a Time­out

THE CRE­ATOR OF THE LINUX KER­NEL is tak­ing some time off for self-re­flec­tion, and is leav­ing the ker­nel to the com­mu­nity for now. While this comes as a sur­prise to those not ac­tive in the ker­nel com­mu­nity, it’s hard to dis­agree with Tor­valds on his de­ci­sio

Maximum PC - - QUICKSTART - Alex Camp­bell Alex Camp­bell is a Linux geek who en­joys learn­ing about com­puter se­cu­rity.

It came as sur­prise to a lot of peo­ple in the Linux world that Li­nus Tor­valds, the Fin­nish pro­gram­mer who cre­ated the Linux ker­nel, has an­nounced that he was go­ing to step away from the project. Since he be­gan the ven­ture in 1991, Linux has been the fo­cus of much of Tor­valds’ pro­fes­sional life. It’s no small thing to see him go.

But it’s not a bad thing. It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber—as Richard Stall­man would re­mind you—that Linux isn’t an op­er­at­ing sys­tem; it’s a ker­nel. The GNU op­er­at­ing sys­tem is re­ally the core of what we call “Linux.” GNU was de­signed as a free re­place­ment for Unix, but lacked a ker­nel that would al­low the OS to talk to a PC’s hard­ware. Li­nus Tor­valds’ Linux project filled that niche, and GNU/Linux was born.

Sure, there is an­other ker­nel for GNU, called Hurd, but I’ve never met any­one who uses it. The fact is that Linux is the most pro­lific ker­nel on the planet. The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of servers on the In­ter­net use Linux. The fastest su­per­com­put­ers use Linux. An­droid, the most pop­u­lar mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tem by a long shot, uses the Linux ker­nel. Tor­valds cre­ated one of the most im­por­tant pieces of soft­ware that pow­ers the mod­ern econ­omy. He is one of the most fa­mous pro­gram­mers in the world, along­side John Car­mack. It’s more than enough to in­flu­ence one’s ego.

Tor­valds has been no­to­ri­ously rough in his treat­ment of ven­dors and code con­trib­u­tors. He fa­mously flipped a bird to Nvidia when talk­ing about the com­pany’s driv­ers. But, more im­por­tantly, he has be­rated code con­trib­u­tors who com­mit code that is sub­par in his eyes. Con­sid­er­ing that Linux is an open-source project that still re­lies on an army of vol­un­teers, this makes him kind of an ass­hole. Tor­valds even ad­mit­ted so him­self. “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,” Tor­valds said. “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.”

For many Linux users, Tor­valds’ be­hav­ior has been pretty much in­vis­i­ble. When a user up­dates the ker­nel, few bother to read Tor­valds’ rants on Ker­ (Hell, I rarely do.) Most peo­ple “apt-get up­grade,” and get on with their lives. But for de­vel­op­ers, hav­ing a code com­mit merged into Linux is a way to be seen by peers or po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers. How­ever, to do so, one must be com­fort­able with the idea of be­ing crapped on over the In­ter­net by one of the most pow­er­ful tech lead­ers in the world.

Yes, coders should have tough skins to be able to take crit­i­cism; we writ­ers face it all the time from our edi­tors. But no­body should have to be ver­bally abused over cod­ing style or pointer er­rors, let alone in a pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble mail­ing list for all to see. It would be like an ed­i­tor scream­ing at a writer for us­ing “there” in­stead of “their” on Twit­ter.

With that per­spec­tive, it’s good that Tor­valds is tak­ing some time to learn peo­ple skills. That said, it’s good to re­mem­ber that while Tor­valds was head hon­cho at the Linux ker­nel project, he wasn’t the only one re­view­ing code. Other peo­ple sign off on code com­mits and merges, so the ker­nel is still in good hands. And when Tor­valds is ready to deal with the fact he works with both code and hu­mans, it will be good to read his re­lease mes­sages on Ker­ again.

Tor­valds is one of the most fa­mous pro­gram­mers in the world. It’s more than enough to in­flu­ence one’s ego.

This man needs to do some yoga, med­i­tate, or some­thing.

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