Open source legend Eric S Raymond has weighed in on governance of the Linux Kernel after developers threatened to withdraw their code from the OS.
The nub of the issue is a new code of conduct the project adopted last week in the wake of founder Linus Torvalds standing down as overseer as the project. Torvalds and current kernel maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartmann proposed the new Code of Conduct (CoC) after Torvalds admitted some of his behavior has damaged the kernel development community. He’s therefore stepped aside from his role as kernel maintainer for a time to seek assistance on how to better understand co-workers’ emotions.
The new Code of Conduct adapts the widely-used Contributor Covenant and lists several examples of “unacceptable behavior” but has not gone down well with some in the kernel development community. Some developers, believing the new Code will inevitably see some people banned from kernel development, have even suggested that excluded developers should band together should rescind the grant of their code to the project under provisions of the Gnu Public License.
Doing so would remove their code from the Linux kernel, potentially wreaking havoc for billions of users who rely on Linux to power servers, appliances or smartphones running Android. While the bulk of contributions to Linux now come from large corporations, an effort to replace withdrawn code would not be simple or swift.
The possibility of such a boycott spurred Raymond to post that his long experience considering open source licenses leads him to believe “this threat has teeth.”
“I urge that we all step back from the edge of this cliff, and I weant [sic] to suggest a basis of principle on which settlement can be negotiated.”
After explaining that “Every group of cooperating humans has a telos, a mutually understood purpose towards which they are working,” Raymond characterized the current state of Linux as “a situation in which a subgroup within the Linux kernel's subculture threatens destructive revolt [because] they think the CoC is an attempt to change the group's telos.”
Raymond opines that “this revolt is not really about any of the surface issues the CoC was written to address” and that “It would be maximally unhelpful to accuse the anti-CoC people of being pro-sexism, or anti-minority, or whatever. Doing that can only inflame their sense that the group telos is being hijacked.”
Raymond therefore challenged the Linux community to find a path so that both the group behind the code of conduct and those who object to it settle on a common “telos”.
“The question *not* to get hung up on is what any individual's choice in this matter says about their attitude towards, say, historically underrepresented minorities. It is perfectly consistent to be pro-tolerance and pro-inclusion while believing *this* subculture ought to be all about producing good code without regard to who is offended by the process.”
“Not every kind of good work has to be done everywhere,” Raymond wrote. “Nobody demands that social-justice causes demonstrate their ability to write C.”