Linus Torvalds, the software engineer and outspoken Linux kernel creator, has returned to oversee the open source project following a self-imposed break last month designed to help him adjust his controversial behavior. Torvalds, who has a reputation for being rude and aggressive to other members of the community, said at the time that wanted to address his “flippant” actions and proclivity for personal attacks. “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,” Torvalds wrote at the time.
Now, about one month later, interim Linux chief Greg Kroah-Hartman, who Torvalds appointed to oversee development of the kernel, has announced that he’s “handing the kernel tree” back to Torvalds in the announcement note for version 4.19. “These past few months has been a tough one for our community, as it is our community that is fighting from within itself, with prodding from others outside of it,” Kroah-Hartman wrote. “So here is my plea to everyone out there. Let’s take a day or two off, rest, relax with friends by sharing a meal, recharge, and then get back to work, to help continue to create a system that the world has never seen the likes of, together.”
While Torvalds has yet to release a statement of his own, ZDNet reports that he and Kroah-Hartman are both currently in Scotland meeting with Linux developers for the Open Source Summit Europe conference. Linux is an open source project, but Torvalds oversees the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML) and he and Kroah-Hartman receive funding from the non-profit Linux Foundation to maintain kernel development and manage its community of contributors.
As part of Torvalds return to the Linux community, the Linux Foundation has officially instated its revised code of conduct that now subscribes to the principles of the more widely adopted and inclusive Contributor Covenant created by Coraline Ada Ehmke. Torvalds announced the new code of conduct in his initial note about stepping back, and the move created controversy in the Linux community for its stark departure from Torvalds’ prior “code of conflict” that treated no-filter feedback and bluntness as the natural and more successful state of open source software development.
The new code of conduct asks that contributors deliver criticism constructively and to accept such criticism mindfully, that people use inclusive language, and that members of the community be respectful of “differing viewpoints and experiences.” It also prohibits “sexualized language or imagery,” derogatory comments, personal or political attacks, and “public or private harassment.” Korah-Hartman described the thought process behind pushing for a more inclusive code of conduct in the 4.19 announcement:
And we all need to remember that, every year new people enter our community with the goal, or requirement, to get stuff done for their job, their hobby, or just because they want to help contribute to the tool that has taken over the world and enabled everyone to have a solid operating system base on which to build their dreams.
And when they come into our community, they don’t have the built-in knowledge of years of experience that thousands of us already do. Without that experience they make mistakes and fumble and have to learn how this all works. Part of learning how things work is dealing with the interaction between people, and trying to understand the basic social norms and goals that we all share. By providing a document in the kernel source tree that shows that all people, developers and maintainers alike, will be treated with respect and dignity while working together, we help to create a more welcome community to those newcomers, which our very future depends on if we all wish to see this project succeed at its goals.
It’s not clear whether the state of Linux development will suddenly become more accepting and positive, especially considering Torvalds was only gone for about one month. But with the new code of conduct in place, and Torvalds’ pledge to examine his actions and improve his behavior, it sounds like productive first steps are being made to revise the Linux community’s culture for the better.