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Self-deprecation aside, the resulting e-mail traffic offers a rare glimpse at an alpha hacker defending his title. Insisting that developers treat Git not so much as a replacement for BitKeeper as the internal “plumbing” which others could use to build such a replacement, Torvalds offered withering scorn to any hacker who dared so much as suggest room for complexity.

“The fact is a lot of crap engineering gets done on the question of ‘what if?,’” he wrote in response to one security-minded inquiry. “You are literally arguing for the equivalent of ‘what if a meteorite hit my plane while it was in flight?’”

By May, the harsh e-mails were starting to dissipate as Git quickly took shape. A team of hackers recruited, for the most part, from the fringes of the kernel development team had delivered in one month a passable open source workaround. While not exactly competitive with BitKeeper, Git, much like the Linux kernel before it, seems well on its way to standard acceptance.

Looking back, kernel hacker H. Peter Anvin, sees it all as an emotional release. “When the BitKeeper fiasco broke, it turned what had previously been a political problem into a technical problem,” he says. “We’re a lot better at solving technical problems.”

As for Torvalds, he sees it as yet another tribute to the power of brutal honesty. “On the Internet, nobody can hear you being subtle,” Torvalds says. “I’ll happily be abrasive and opinionated if it helps get issues out in the open and gets people into the conversation. The real magic ingredient is being able to change your mind occasionally so that people know you’re an opinionated bastard, but that it might be worthwhile talking to you anyway.”

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