Lennart Poettering's Linus Torvalds rant

Open-source mailing lists and IRC conversations are as prone to flame wars as anywhere on the Internet, but now systemd co-creator Lennart Poettering is calling out Linus Torvalds in a more public forum for helping to create attacks on him.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Linus Torvalds, Linux's creator and leader, is known for his sometimes frank and vulgar language on the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML). He doesn't suffer programming fools gladly. For him, his management style works. Not everyone is happy about it and Lennart Poettering, a Red Hat engineer and one of the creators of the controversial systemd system and service replacement for Unix and Linux's sysvinit daemon, has called out Torvalds for his salty attitude in a public Google+ post.

Lennart Poettering
Lennart Poettering, Red Hat engineer and creator of systemd, has a bone to pick with Linus Torvalds.

Poettering, though, doesn't just think that Torvalds is too rude and confrontational on the LKML, where most Linux kernel development work happens, he sees Torvalds as a major source for a broader problem. He wrote, "Open Source community tries to advertise the community as one happy place to the outside where contributions are valued only by their technical quality, and everybody meets at conferences for beers. Well, it is not like that. It's quite a sick place to be in."

Even though he hasn't been active on the LKML in ages, he goes on to say that the:

"Open Source community is full of a******s, and I probably more than most others am one of their most favourite targets. I get hate mail for hacking on Open Source. People have started multiple 'petitions' on petition web sites, asking me to stop working (google for it). Recently, people started collecting Bitcoins to hire a hitman for me (this really happened!). Just the other day, some idiot posted a 'song' on YouTube, a creepy work, filled with expletives about me and suggestions of violence. People post websites about boycotting my projects, containing pretty personal attacks."

There is no question that Poettering's work has engendered a lot of hate. Even though systemd has been adopted by most major Linux distributions, including Debian, Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), and Ubuntu, there's still a lot of backlash against it. For example, there's a site, Boycott Systemd, where the name says it all.

I also have no doubt that Poettering has received such attacks. Unfortunately, that comes with being a public figure on today's Internet. I myself have gotten death threats serious enough that I've turned them over to the FBI, endless hate-mail, and requests that I be fired. The Internet has precious little civility and is all too often filled with hate and trolls.

Poettering agrees: "The Internet is full of deranged people, no doubt, so one might just discount all of this on the grounds that the Open Source community isn't any different than any other community on the Internet or even offline." He then goes on to blame Torvalds and the people around him for setting a bad example:

I'd actually put some blame on a certain circle of folks that play a major role in kernel development, and first and foremost Linus Torvalds himself. By many he is a considered a role model, but he is quite a bad one. If he posts words like "[specific folks] ...should be retroactively aborted. Who the f*ck does idiotic things like that? How did they not die as babies, considering that they were likely too stupid to find a tit to suck on?" (google for it), then that's certainly bad. But what I find particularly appalling is the fact that he regularly defends this, and advertises this as an efficient way to run a community. (But it is not just Linus, it's a certain group of people around him who use the exact same style, some of which semi-publicly even phantasize [sic] about the best ways to, ... well, kill me).

At this point, I think Poettering has gone off the rails.

I know most of Linux's top developers. None of them are fantasizing about killing anyone or encouraging such hateful attitudes. When I spoke to Torvalds recently about systemd he told me, "I don't actually have any particularly strong opinions on systemd itself. I've had issues with some of the core developers that I think are much too cavalier about bugs and compatibility, and I think some of the design details are insane (I dislike the binary logs, for example), but those are details, not big issues."

This is hardly hate speech.

Theodore "Ted" Ts'o, a leading Linux kernel developer and a Google engineer, wrote in a Google+ response, "I'm not aware of anyone 'close to Linus' who has been making threats of violence or anything even close to it towards Lennart Poettering. If you know of any, please feel free to let me and others know, privately or publicly as you prefer."

Indeed, Ts'o added that Torvalds and he must "give props to the fact that systemd is attempting to address problems that haven't been well addressed in quite some time. We might have some disagreements about how the systemd community has gone about its work, but I don't think I've seen anyone "close to Linus" signing petitions."

Poettering continued on that: 

"If Linux had success, then that certainly happened despite, not because of this [Torvald's] behavior. I am pretty sure the damage being done by this is quite obvious, it not only sours the tone in the Linux community, it is also teaches new contributors to adopt the same style, but that's only if it doesn't scare them away in the first place. In other words: A fish rots from the head down."

Sorry, I can't see this. Linux is, without a doubt, the most successful open-source project of all time. It runs everything from almost all supercomputers, the vast majority of Internet servers, most smartphones under the guise of Android, and it powers the cloud. If this is "rotting," all other projects could only wish to rot so well. 

You can dislike Torvalds and his methods, but, like it or not, under Torvalds' sometimes rude direction, Linux has become perhaps the most important operating system in the world today.

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