Linux overlord Linus Torvalds has apologised “to the people that my personal behavior hurt and possibly drove away from kernel development entirely” and revealed he will take a break from his role.
In a lengthy post to the Linux Kernel Mailing List, Torvalds announced release candidate four for Linux 4.19 and then penned a lengthy aside he described as a "look yourself in the mirror" moment that came about after “people in our community confronted me about my lifetime of not understanding emotions.”
The confrontation came about after conflict over the schedule of the forthcoming kernel maintainership summit, which Torvalds admits he mismanaged to the point that “ 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.”
He appears to have lashed out at others in the process, as he wrote “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,” he continued.
“I am going to take time off and get some assistance on how to understand people’s emotions and respond appropriately.”
“This is not some kind of ‘I'm burnt out, I need to just go away’ break,” Torvalds added. “I'm not feeling like I don't want to continue maintaining Linux. Quite the reverse. I very much *do* want to continue to do this project that I've been working on for almost three decades.”
“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’,” he explained.
“I need to take a break to get help on how to behave differently and fix some issues in my tooling and workflow.”
Torvalds said he hopes that tools like an email filter that removes curse words could be a part of the solution. But he also admitted he doesn’t have all the answers.
“I know when I really look myself in the mirror it will be clear it's not the only change that has to happen, but hey... You can send me suggestions in email.”
Torvalds hasn’t revealed how long he plans to spend away from his work on the kernel, but has previously said he feels the Linux community is strong enough to survive his sudden demise.
But not strong enough, it appears, to tolerate his not-infrequent blasts at developers whose work doesn’t meet his technical standards.
Torvalds has always argued that when he goes off, it’s solely to protect the quality of the Linux kernel, rather than a personal attack.
But developers haven’t seen it that way: in 2015 USB driver maintainer Sarah Sharp quit all Linux contributions after copping a Torvalds blast. Others have cringed in public after Torvalds lashed out, often using vivid and/or not-safe-for-work language.
Torvalds’ break comes in the context of new standards of behavior sweeping the technology community in the wake of former Uber developer Susan Fowler’s exposure of sexism in the ride-share company.
Fowler’s post detailing her experiences became part of the wider #metoo movement protesting sexism, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
That movement, and other efforts at increasing civility in online debate, now seem to have caught up with Torvalds.