A recent dust up on the Linux kernel developer mail list between Linus Torvalds and a developer led to Linus deciding to step away from the kernel project for a while and adopting a Code of Conduct. All but one of the kernel repository owners/managers voted to adopt the new code of conduct including Linus.
I’m not going to go through the exchange Linus had with the developer. Nor am I going to go through Linus’ subsequent apology, self-examination and decision to step away. I made the mistake of expressing my pragmatic view of this on Twitter. I wrote the Linux kernel team and Linus are free to add or not add a Code of Conduct as they see fit. I added those who didn’t like the way Linus and the Kernel team operated could fork the code and create a competing kernel and manage their project as they saw fit. It seemed to trigger a few snowflakes.
At this point Linus is expected to return after the next kernel release expected in a couple of weeks. But his absence combined with widespread concerns over how the code of conduct might affect the kernel going forward are starting to concern the larger Linux community of users and administrators. Again, I’m not interested in going through the concerns over the code of conduct. If drama is your thing, there are plenty of other sources to slake your thirst.
This blog post was prompted by a call from a client who has a significant investment in Linux servers. They have been hacked in the past and were concerned about the possibility the kernel security could be affected by all of this. My reply was any impact to the kernel is not likely to be felt by anyone using any of the major Linux distributions because the vendors will not use a kernel if it is compromised or becomes insecure.
He said he heard some developers were considering pulling previous contributions they made to the kernel project. He was concerned that would make it impossible to even do security updates. I assured him the ability for a developer to pull contributions from an open source project after they have been incorporated into the project is by no means settled law. There are very adept lawyers arguing both sides of the issue in articles, blog posts, facebook pages and tweets but until a court of competent jurisdiction orders code removed from the kernel project it is business as usual. And we are years away from that kind of eventuality.
At the moment, absolutely nothing changes. The kernel project continues and kernel updates get released and the various distributions pick up the kernel updates and test them and then if they are acceptable roll them into their Linux version for distribution. If ill winds start to blow and put the long term prospects of a viable Linux kernel in jeopardy, the disty houses will take action. Perhaps it would be a rewrite of the kernel without the disputed code, perhaps it would be a brand new kernel that becomes LinuxII, perhaps they adopt one of the other open source unix like kernels out there like FreeBSD. The bottom line is from the standpoint of the user and administrator there is absolutely no reason to panic. There isn’t even much reason to be concerned at this point.
My prediction is this will all blow over and whether Linus returns or not, whether current developers leave or not, the current Linux kernel will continue to be actively developed and supported. If Linus and some of the core developers leave we might see a competing kernel popup in the future and if that happens it will lead to some very interesting times.
It would be awesome to see if Linus could capture lighting in a bottle for a second time. But the chance the kernel team or the Linux Foundation would remove Linux Torvalds from the project even if he regresses back to his historical management style is orders of magnitude less than Bigfoot being proven real this year.