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Open Source Developer Feuding Gets Uglier

I admit, I thought some of Linux creator Linus Torvalds' rants in his public feuds with other open source developers were kind of funny, even if some were over the top. His style rubbed off on others, generating several contentious back-and-forth exchanges on mailing lists that I still found humorous sometimes.

Death threats aren't funny, though.

The squabbling has reached new, ugly heights as revealed by Red Hat Inc. developer Lennart Poettering in a Google Plus post earlier this month in which he related threats of violence and even a movement to hire a "hitman" to deal with him.

"Much of the open source community tries to advertise the community as one happy place to the outside," Poettering said. "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."

Linus Torvalds
Linus Torvalds caught in a famous moment gesturing to Nvidia.
(source: YouTube screenshot)

Poettering, who worked on the systemd component of Linux, placed most of the blame for this "sickness" on Torvalds. "By many he is a considered a role model, but he is quite a bad one," Poettering said.

Systemd, as described by Wikipedia, "is a system management daemon designed for Linux and programmed exclusively for the Linux API. For systems using it, it is the first process that is executed in user space during the Linux startup process."

For whatever reasons, systemd has generated quite a bit of animosity among other developers, Torvalds included. A few years ago there was even a petition set up to compel Poettering to "Stop writing useless programs," including systemd. It was closed with 235 signatures.

On Hacker News, his post generated 169 comments. They were all over the map of course, but even on that site some extreme vitriol emerged, with one commenter calling him "a scourge and a scum" and another saying he "is a complete ___hole and deserves all the hate he gets."

What's going on here? It's only software, folks.

It even gets worse, as Poettering explained:

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 Web sites about boycotting my projects, containing pretty personal attacks. On IRC, people /msg me sometimes, with nasty messages, and references to artwork in 4chan style. And there's more. A lot more.

Frankly, I don't want to hear anymore. The humor is gone and there are a lot more serious things going on in the world to get upset about. Poettering said he is done with it, too.

"I am not the one to fix any of this, I cannot tell you how one could do it," he said about the open source infighting. "And quite frankly, I really don't want to be involved in fixing this. I am a technical guy, I want to do technical things."

Finally, he concluded: "And that's all about this topic from me. I have no intentions to ever talk about this again on a public forum."

Posted by David Ramel on October 16, 2014