In a surprising move, Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux who still plays a huge part in the community, has announced that he is taking a break from his work as a maintainer to work on what he calls his “unprofessional” behaviour.
The shock declaration came as part of the release announcement for Linux 4.19 release candidate 4. These announcements are usually relatively straightforward affairs that keeps the community updated with how work on the Linux kernel (which forms the basis of Linux-based operating systems and distributions such as Ubuntu and Android) is going.
Written by Torvalds, these announcements would often be brutally honest about the trials and tribulations involved with organising the developers (and their code) who are working on the kernel.
However, recent delays to the schedule, and Torvald’s response, have caused frustration within the community. As Torvalds admits: “I am not an emotionally empathetic kind of person and that probably doesn’t come as a big surprise to anybody. Least of all me. The fact that I then misread people and don’t realize (for years) how badly I’ve judged a situation and contributed to an unprofessional environment is not good.”
Taking a break
According to Torvalds, members of the Linux community confronted him about his “lifetime of not understanding emotions. 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.”
Torvalds has long been regarded as an eccentric and outspoken innovator, and while many of us have seen his previous outbursts as part of who he is, it’s clearly not acceptable when dealing with people – especially people who are giving their free time to help develop and maintain Linux for free.
So, it’s good that Torvalds has identified that this type of behaviour has been a problem, and is taking time off to work on bettering himself personally and professionally. Other rogue entrepreneurs whose erratic behaviour has been affecting their companies and employees (we’re looking at you, Elon Musk) might be wise to follow Torvald’s lead.
Greg Kroah-Hartman, a leading kernel developer, will take over Torvalds’s responsibilities temporarily, and he leaves Linux in good health. It’s not as popular on desktop and laptop machines as Windows or macOS, but Linux powers a huge range of PCs and devices throughout the world, as well as providing the base for Android, the world’s most widely-used operating system.
As for Torvalds, he promises he won’t be gone for long. “This is not some kind of ‘I’m burnt out, I need to just go away’ break. 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.”