Freedombone Blog

Freedom in the Cloud

Linux Improved

So the Linux kernel project has been scandalized by some complaints about Linus' behavior on LKML. If you've read earlier blog posts here then you'll know that this is very old news and the problems with the way the project is organized are longstanding.

Just to be clear, I'm not trying to generate FUD about Linux. That has already been done far more extensively by certain companies and mainstream tech journalists. In terms of technology and code quality, the Linux kernel is pretty good and it's something I use and rely upon every day.

Rather than ranting incoherently like a Reddit buffoon, I'll propose some suggestions.

Improve the CoC

Code of Conflict wasn't all that good, and the Contributor Covenant isn't all that much better. In particular it's last rule is so vague that it's meaningless.

I suggest either using the Debian CoC, or better than that, crowdsource the creation of a new CoC in a similar manner to what happened with the creation of GPL3. Give anyone who has a patch in the kernel edit permissions and set a deadline for the final draft. This will ensure that participants in the development of the kernel can all have their say about what they consider a good standard of conduct to be.

Consider manual pre-screening

Assuming that Linus is remaining as the top maintainer I'm not all that confident that him adding some outgoing mail rules will entirely prevent him from tripping over whatever CoC exists. Another way of putting this is that after 25 years of consistent behavior I'm not sure that Linus is going to change all that much, and just blocking curse words might not be enough to stop him from getting into a situation where he's violating his own code of conduct.

To get around this problem one of the other maintainers might want to review whatever Linus posts before sending it to LKML. Yes that creates extra work for someone, but it might be the best way to avoid future scandals. So maybe he can appoint a secretary. If possible, someone who has been critical of his tirades in the past so that there's some degree of real vigilance being deployed.

Rotate maintainers

It's something I suggested in the past, and just one of a few similar possibilities. Instead of Linus always being the top maintainer for multiple decades rotate that position between a few of the established maintainers. This spreads the load of governance and also gives other maintainers on-the-job training for when Linus will no longer be around. It could also bring much needed new blood and new perspectives into the project.

Consider alternative funding

Currently Linus and perhaps a few other maintainers are paid to work full time by the Linux Foundation. I may be going out on a limb here, but being funded by Google, Microsoft and Facebook isn't a good situation for the kernel to be in. It will, and probably already has, created conflicts of interest between the billions of Linux users and narrow self-serving corporate ambitions. If you look at the technical advisory board it's packed with people from companies whose ethics are severely tainted.

Perhaps it's time to break that tie.

I think it's realistic to assume that the top maintainers could be crowdfunded. If Mastodon can do it I'm sure that Linus could. Sure, he might have to take a pay cut, move out of Sillycon Valley and live more modestly like an average human. But that would be a positive step, such that the development is no longer heavily influenced by a few corporations.

Change the voting process for the technical advisory board

Have the technical advisory board be 50% women.

No, before you start throwing chairs at me like Ballmer, hear me out.

When elections take place just get voters to nominate one man and one woman. Whether and to what extent non-binary people should be included isn't something I've thought much about. Maybe it could be 50% women or non-binary.

Since the board is in charge of CoC enforcement this would create a handy counterbalance against the previously hostile environment of LKML.