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"Big Boobs" coding mischief forces Microsoft apology

A recent gaffe by a Microsoft coder gives a bit more evidence to the idea that a touch of immaturity might be lurking in the company's coding rank and file.

According to a message posted by Paolo Bonzini to the (unofficial) Linux Kernel Mailing List, a small snippet of code found in Microsoft's Hyper-V – a virtualisation server – was used every time a user loaded Linux within the virtual environment.

The joke? The code itself, written in hexadecimal, was the string, "0xB16B00B5." Or, "Big Boobs."

"At the most basic level it's just straightforward childish humour, and the use of vaguely-English strings in magic hex constants is hardly uncommon. But it's also specifically male childish humour. Puerile sniggering at breasts contributes to the continuing impression that software development is a boys club where girls aren't welcome. It's especially irritating in this case because Azure may depend on this constant, so changing it will break things," wrote Linux developer and Red Hat employee Dr. Matthew Garrett in a blog post.

"So, full marks, Microsoft. You've managed to make the kernel more offensive to half the population and you've made it awkward for us to rectify it," he added. Microsoft, now made aware of the issue, has apologised for the joke.

"We thank the community for reporting this issue and apologise for the offensive string. We have submitted a patch to fix this issue and the change will be published in a future release of the kernel," said Microsoft representatives in an email to Network World.

However, not all have responded to the coding gaffe quite as strongly as Garrett. In fact, Linux enthusiast and journalist Sam Varghese wrote a strong rebuttal to Garrett's offence — and is now, himself, taking flak for his arguments that "Big Boobs" snuck into code is hardly that big of a deal given everything else that's in there.

"Of course, this assumes that everyone in the world is reading kernel code while they have their eggs and bacon (or whatever it is people have for breakfast in different areas of the world) and being shocked at the use of such expressions in the code," Varghese wrote.

"The words "f**k", "s**t", and "bastard" have been increasingly present in the kernel code since the 2.4 release. That, however, has never bothered Garrett. But a juvenile use of hex? That's reason to raise the Titanic," he added.

And, naturally, one can track the use of bad wordsies in Linux kernel code via the Linux kernel swear counts Web-based counter.