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“Maybe I’m asocial or something, but I think people tend to naturally form pretty small groups of five to ten people,” says Torvalds, summarizing his embrace. “I really think that the thing that makes kernel development scale to bigger numbers is the network of these groups.”

An outspoken pragmatist on the issue of software licensing, Torvalds gambled on the kernel community’s willingness to trade transparency for efficiency. By March 2004, that gamble seemed to be paying off. In a press release issued by BitMover, the company measured a 130 percent increase in the number of files added to the Linux kernel during the two-year development cycle after the switch.

Within a year, however, the more idealistic wing of the open source community would have its say. Following a suggestion on the part of free software pioneer Richard M. Stallman, Aussie hacker Tridgell began writing a free software client that could pipe developer data through the BitKeeper system, effectively sidestepping BitKeeper’s closed nature. Rather than lose its tentpole product to the hacker hordes, BitMover promptly withdrew its Linux license, leaving Torvalds to handle the negative public relations fallout.

Torvalds responded with a unique mixture of hubris and humility. He was loath switch to a tool he considered less desirable, such as CVS (the Concurrent Versions System, developed by Stallman’s GNU Project). Instead, Torvalds sketched out the rough workings of a file system that would allow him and other managers to monitor source code changes and “roll back” to previous changes in the event of an errant design decision. In a grudging acknowledgment of his own stubborn unwillingness to use CVS, Torvalds dubbed the new system ‘Git.’

“ ‘Git’ can mean anything, depending on your mood,” warned Torvalds in the tool’s attendant README file, publicly accessible (of course) via the Kerneltrap.org website. “Stupid. Contemptible and despicable. Simple. Take your pick.”

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