Let me address the "Linus issue" first, because it's the simpler and less critical issue. Linus is precisely one user. For every Linus Torvalds (there's exactly one of them), we have 10s of millions of other KDE users and a few billion who don't use any F/OSS solution at all yet. I don't like losing any user, though, and such a happening can be deflating and make one second guess what they are doing (which isn't an entirely bad thing either, as long as it doesn't result in bad decision making or paralysis).
The decisions made in KDE 4.0 were for the future. A future which we are about to be living in with 4.2 released on the 27th. KDE 4.2 is a phenomenal release and unlike KDE 3.5, which was also a phenomenal release, this new release is a platform that we can successfully build on and compete in the market with for the next decade. It's cross platform, the libraries are much clearer and the technology available in KDE 4 for the user is appropriate to modern computer usage.
While 4.0 was a brutally hard decision and one that cost me (and I assume others) sleepless nights, it was what we needed to do to ensure that we didn't end up stagnating ourselves into irrelevance. By "ourselves" I mean the F/OSS desktop, which includes the Linux desktop. KDE 4.2 is a validation of those choices and while '08 will be remembered as a freaking tough year (mostly for my nerves ;), we're already past that time period and into the beginning of the pay off period. That period will extend several years out, and will gain us yet millions more users on all sorts of systems.
I already know of at least one significant downstream that is migrating to KDE 4 due to 4.2; and no, they aren't migrating from KDE 3. This is the start of the pay off period, though we still have a large amount of territory to explore before KDE 4 is "done". Nepomuk, for instance, is really still only getting started despite the huge leaps forward already.
Now, if Linus needed to get off the train while we rode through '08, that's just fine. It's a strength of F/OSS that you have choices. It's a strength that we can speak openly about it, too. Linus knows that, too, as he said in the article:
"I realise the reason for the 4.0 release, but I think they did it badly. They did so may changes it was a half-baked release. It may turn out to be the right decision in the end and I will re-try KDE, but I suspect I'm not the only person they lost.
I got the update through Fedora and there was a mismatch from KDE 3 to KDE 4.0. The desktop was not as functional and it was just a bad experience for me. I'll revisit it when I reinstall the next machine which tends to be every six to eight months."
I don't think that Linus was out of bounds saying this publicly, either. That's another strength of F/OSS: the ability to engage in open discourse. Compare and contrast how Linus approached it and how the "Linux Hater Blog" style writers do it, though. Linus is using his noggin, being honest and being analytical. That is cool in my book, and I'm confident that when Linus reinstalls his OS in '09, we'll win his attention back; KDE 4 has become just that good. One thing he wasn't in that interview was confrontational and repugnantly rude.
Interestingly, when I said something similarly even handed, accurate but negative about Canonical and Ubuntu in the media once, I got a serious "spanking" in private by the Canonical people and as a result people from other distros chided me as well. ("Don't make waves, Aaron!") This is where the cracks in our community start to show. We need to be willing to accept cross-talk between ourselves.
In that article, Linus said he got burned by his distro updating him to 4.0. I have to admit that it's really hard to stay positive about the efforts of downstreams when they wander around feeling they should be above reproach while simultaneously hurting our (theirs and ours) users in a rush to be more bad ass bleeding edge than any other cool dude distro in town. I hope this time instead of handing out spankings, the distros can sit back and think about things and try and figure out how they played an unfortunate part in the 4.0 fiasco.
The real Kings of Disappointment, however, are the community press who sensationalized the article and raise the choice of one person above the result it's having for all. This, by the way, is why I keep my own choices in software fairly quiet. While certainly nowhere near the same level as Linus in the community, I know just how untrustworthy the community press can be. The behavior they display on a regular basis means we have to treat them all with kid gloves for fear of collateral damage to others.
Here the collateral damage will be fear of innovation. "Don't do anything too big, because it'll cost you and cost you ..." is the lesson some are taking away from all this. Fear is a killer. It's also something that tempers unreasonable risk taking, but it can also prevent healthy risks from being taken. Trotting out a sensationalized story about 4.0 when we're about to release 4.2 is going to have exactly that effect unless we are conscious of this.
I will make another small prediction: there won't be a single follow up story on this if Linus does install KDE 4 in the future. After the damage is done, the community press has a way of just "moving on". There is very little long term commitment to full stories; instead there is rife sensationalism. It's more fun and interesting, after all, and besides who cares about our future?
I hope that everyone proves me wrong on this one, though. I hope someone writes an article taking what Linus said about 4.0 and analyzes the path through to 4.2, the role of distributions in coordinating sensibly in light of upstream advisement and the humps we in KDE tripped up over as well. It wouldn't stand much chance to be sensationalistic, but it would be a useful contribution to the dialog we as a community need to have.
Nobody and no project is perfect. Mistakes will be made, sometimes even in the process of producing success. Punishing each other unreasonably for it is stupid, learning from it is smart. I know we've learned a lot from it and made various changes to improve. We've worked really hard with downstreams to help improve coordination; we've worked really hard on improving external communication; we've worked really hard on making the community robust against divisiveness; we've been working on how to improve the development process with things like "always Summer in trunk" (which has evolved into "always Autumn in trunk" ;) such that we can more effectively chase innovation with less risk.
When 4.2 is rolled out to users, I hpe that we can take some time to do some round-table follow up as a community and engage in some deep reflection on how 4.2 (and future releases built upon it) was made at all possible.
After all, Linus' "hobby kernel" ;) needs a world class interface to match what it has become, and it's up to us to make it.