Linus Addresses Criticism for Harsh Language

Oct 21, 2014

Kernel king admits his tone has alienated volunteers, but says the demands of the process require directness.

Linux founder and kernel honcho Linus Torvalds took the stage recently at the Linux + CloudOpen conference in Düsseldorf, Germany. The Q&A session was moderated by Intel Linux chief Dirk Hohndel and also included questions from the audience. Much of the session focused on the kernel development process, the role of maintainers, and the need for more and better testing for the 10,000 packages submitted with each new kernel release cycle.
Some of the commentary, however, seemed to be in response to the recent, well publicized remarks from kernel developer Lennart Poettering, who questioned the combativeness of the kernel development process and blamed Torvalds for setting a tone of disrespect. When asked what about his biggest regret over his years as the top kernel maintainer, Linus replied that he had no technical regrets, however, "the problems tend to be alienating users and developers, and I'm pretty good at that."
Linus seemed conciliatory in acknowledging the criticism of his harsh tone; however, he also offered justification, adding "On the Internet, no one can hear you be subtle."
Those who prefer the high-stress and strong language of the kernel development community needn't worry that Linus will change his approach anytime soon. The interview also included the following exchange:
Linus: What really matters is people are involved with creating the best technology we can.
Hohndel: And what's important is they enjoy being called monkeys on crack?
Linus: Some people do. There is a certain amount of Stockholm syndrome. When you abuse somebody enough, they start liking it.
Torvalds added that he was joking; however, it is likely that those who call for more civility will not find levity in the casual comparison of kernel developers to hostages under duress. The complete interview is available online at the site.

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