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Linus Torvalds is back

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After the much-needed break, from the kernel community, the creator of the world’s most used technology, Linux, is back,

Torvalds is expected to meet fellow kernel developer at the ongoing open source summit in Edinburg, Scotland.

Torvalds’ return to resume his day to day activities at the Linux Kernel Mailing List was hinted by Greg Kroah-Hartman, a friend and maintainer of the stable branch. Announcing the Linux kernel 4.19, Kroah-Hartman wrote, “And with that, Linus, I’m handing the kernel tree back to you. You can have the joy of dealing with the merge window :)”

I met and interview Torvalds, just before he took the break. We also discussed his rare outburst on LKML. I feel Torvalds is in the same boat as most founders are. They take their projects very seriously. They treat them like their babies and at times they get personal. Pick any founder and you will see the same pattern – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Elon Musk or Linus Torvalds.

What makes Torvalds more vulnerable than anyone else is the fact that unlike closed-door board meetings, everything Torvalds says is public. In fact, he told me that he would not want to deal with any issues privately. Transparency and trust is the key. But unfortunately, trolls and some bloggers like to pick juicy stuff. It sells.

There is no doubt that Torvalds outburst is often seen as offensive, but we tend to ignore the fact that unlike other managers he doesn’t have any real power. He can’t demote people from their jobs. He can’t hold their bonus or transfer them to another department. He can’t get them fired from their jobs.

Another point that critics of Torvalds often ignore, and it’s a very important point, is that he reserves his outburst only for the top maintainers who he blindly trusts. You will never find him unleashing on a new maintainer. As Kroah-Hartman once said that they are all friends, they have known each other so these core developers, who are well trusted by Torvalds, don’t really mind any of it. The only noise we hear is from the peanut gallery that actually does not contribute any code.

The entire fiasco started off with a New Yorker story. I had a game theory that New Yorker was going through a rough time after their Steve Bannon mishap. They had invited Bannon to a commercial event, and they were under fire. My theory is that they needed a diversion, and they picked a story that they knew would be controversial – Linus Torvalds. They picked a topic that is very sensitive to the Bannon crowd – diversity and inclusion. For that story, they interviewed people who had nothing to do with the kernel community. The crowd that doesn’t even contribute to the kernel or knows anything about how open source meritocracy works saw it as a perfect opportunity. New Yorker had a perfect diversion.

But Torvalds beat them to their own game by announcing a break to reflect on his behaviour. Now, since he is back, I hope that this break and whatever consultation Torvalds received during his break, will help him channel his frustration in a more creative manner.

Time will tell.

To celebrate Torvalds’ return, I am publishing a 50 minutes long interview that I recorded with him recently, enjoy!

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Swapnil Bhartiya
I have more than 12 years of experience covering Enterprise Open Source, Cloud, Containers, IoT, Machine Learning and general tech. My stories cover a very broad spectrum - traditional Linux, data center and Free Software to contemporary emerging technologies like 'serverless'. Widely Read: My stories have appeared in a multitude of leading publications including CIO, InfoWorld, Network World, The New Stack, Linux Pro Magazine, ADMIN Magazine, HPE Insights, Raspberry Pi Geek Magazine, SweetCode, Linux For You, Electronics For You and more.

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