Controversial Lennart Poettering Finds His Place In Linux Community

The systemd developer produced an initialization system that no one liked, but everyone adopted for use with Linux containers. Are his days as a target over?

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

May 8, 2015

3 Min Read
<p align="left">Lennart Poettering takes the Fest podium.</p>

in systemd disrupted kernel operations. Linux's kernel project leader Linus Torvalds singled out both Sievers and Poettering as violators of the process in a message reported on the online Linux news site, Phoronix:

Kay, I'm f*cking tired of the fact that you don't fix problems in the code *you* write, so that the kernel then has to work around the problems you cause… This has been going on for *years*, and doesn't seem to be getting any better… I'm not willing to merge something where the maintainer is known to not care about bugs and regressions and then forces people in other projects to fix their project. Because I am *not* willing to take patches from people who don't clean up after their problems, and don't admit that it's their problem to fix. Kay - one more time: you caused the problem, you need to fix it. None of this "I can do whatever I want, others have to clean up after me" crap. Linus

In a follow-up email, he appeared to single out Poettering's lack of teamwork. Systemd was providing service parsing, Torvalds acknowledged, but that "does become a problem when you have a system service developer who thinks the universe revolves around him, and nobody else matters, and people sending him bug-reports are annoyances that should be ignored rather than acknowledged and fixed."

Poettering and Sievers may have been wrong on a bug fix or multiple fixes, but clearly the upstarts had offended the gatekeepers on more than just the issue at hand.

Poettering in his Google post warned would-be Linux contributors: The open source community around Linux is viewed as a collegial body where contributors are valued by the technical quality of their code. "Well, it's not like that. It's quite a sick place to be in." After his post, Poettering was criticized for not having participated in the Linux Kernel Mailing List, and defended himself in that forum.

I don't think that Torvalds should be held responsible for the more extreme views expressed by the fringe of the Linux community, and surely some of the feedback Poettering collected was coming from the fringe. But when it comes to the value of the code, Poettering's ideas and approach have been more in step with the times than many other developers.

With systemd, Linux can launch and run containers as a service and run a set of containers on a host, maintaining log files that were sometimes lost under the init daemon. Not only Red Hat Fedora and Enterprise Linux, but OpenSUSE, CentOS, Debian, and Ubuntu have adopted systemd, even if some of their customers held their noses as they did so.

I think Poettering's real offense has been to advocate faster development of Linux at the expense of remaining POSIX compliant and to discard other tenets of the faith long adhered to. As he spoke at CoreOS Fest, however, he was in programmer mode, not protest mode. It was all just down-to-earth programmer talk, without a hint of bombast or hyperbole. Whatever rejection he may have felt from the kernel process must be somewhat allayed by the attention he commands in forums full of audience members in the thick of today's container and Linux action.

Systemd is good for running containers and mobile devices, among many other things. Poettering and Sievers have had the smarts to step outside the box and assemble a set of code modules that in all likelihood will last long into the future. And Poettering in his protest has perhaps gotten a concern for civility back into a community that might benefit from having a little more of it.

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About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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