Linus Torvalds takes a break from Linux

Emotional, Burning, Unlimited Tuned Laboratory

In a surprising move, Linus Torvalds, Linux’s creator, is taking a break from his Linux kernel work to work on his behavior toward other developers. In a note to the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML), Torvalds wrote, “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.”

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If you follow the trials and tribulations of Linux developments, this is mind-blowing. For the almost 30 years that Torvalds has been working on the kernel, he’s been famous — or infamous — for his outbursts toward programmers and others who didn’t meet his high expectations.

Over the decades, Torvalds has torn into security developers, open-source lawyers, and other kernel developers, such as Sage Sharp. Every few months, there would be another four-letter Torvalds eruption. This became publicly accepted, but privately it left bad blood.

The last straw was a side issue. Torvalds had forgotten Maintainer Summit, a meeting of Linux’s top 40 or so developers, had already been scheduled when he made plans for a family vacation. The upshot of this was the developers moved the Summit from Vancouver Canada as part of the private Linux Plumbers Conference to Edinburgh, Scotland at the same time as the European Open Source Summit.

James Bottomley, a top Linux kernel developer and one of Plumbers’ organizers, explained:

For 2018 the plan was that we’d have the Maintainer Summit on Monday afternoon and the rest of the Kernel Summit running through Plumbers (Tue-Thurs) in Vancouver. Because of Linus’ travel cockup, he can’t make Plumbers at all, so the current plan is to convene the Maintainer part of the summit in Edinburgh as half a day invitation only event but keep the open Kernel Summit track in Plumbers (and give all the Maintainer Summit attendees a free Plumbers pass to encourage them to go to Vancouver as well), so all the substantive technical Kernel Summit content will be in Plumbers but the invite only process day won’t be co-located.

As Torvalds explained, “I was somewhat embarrassed about having screwed up my calendar, but honestly, 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.” Yes, it was rescheduled, but along the way “I realized that I had completely misread some of the people involved.”

Torvalds looked at himself in the mirror, and he wasn’t happy. He realized “it wasn’t actually funny or a good sign that I was hoping to just skip the yearly kernel summit entirely, and on the other hand realizing that I really had been ignoring some fairly deep-seated feelings in the community.”