Good question. Why is it that when Linus has choice words for somebody else, we laugh and agree, but when people like Steve Ballmer are rude, we instantly go on the attack?
I think I can explain this by making my own extended metaphor. Linus Torvalds is the Bobby Cox of computer development. If you play baseball, or watch baseball, you probably have a good idea of who Bobby Cox is. He's the head coach of the Atlanta Braves, and the mastermind behind the unprecedented and record breaking Pennant streak of the Braves, and the one responsible for the Braves continuing to be a powerhouse over a decade later.
In the world of baseball, Bobby Cox doesn't have a reputation for running his mouth. He's generally seen as a calm and collected coach who sits in the dugout and does his best to be the best coach the team can have. Bobby Cox saves his trips to visit the umpires for when the visit will actually mean something. It's taken for granted that when Bobby Cox goes after the umpires, somebody screwed up, and Bobby is normally backed up later by video replays on questionable calls by umpires. Because Bobby Cox saves his trips, most umpires will take a moment and actually listen to what Bobby Cox has to say.
In the same manner, Linus is known for being the best coder he can be, and backing his words up. When Linus went after the Gnome developers and their clique, he backed up his firestorm with actual code. Where-as Bobby Cox is assigned respect and is deferred to for having proven that he can lead a team through a World Series, and for having proven that he can repeatedly take teams even filled with Rookies through a winning season, Linus has proven that he can code an operating system kernel used by billions.
Steve Ballmer, on the other hand, has proven nothing. The reputation of Steve Ballmer is that he is an outright liar, which is proven just about everytime he opens his mouth in a public location, and a complete nutcase, as evidenced by his chair throwing antics and irrational screaming sessions as reported by current and former Microsoft employees. The fact is, the name and persona of Steve Ballmer carries no respect. There is no deference for his contributions or past, because he has nothing to offer and nothing to show. I've already seen some banks issue financial predictions indicating that if the shareholders of Microsoft don't immediately move to remove Ballmer from a position of authority, that there is no long term future for Microsoft.
I think a better way to say this is that when Bobby Cox is rude, he has a point to make. When Linus Torvalds is rude, he's generally making a point. When Steve Ballmer is rude, he's just being rude. He doesn't have anything to say.
Then there is the method of how things are said. Linus mostly talks in emails, which is more convenient to him as a mass developer. Take a moment and look around for voice and video recordings of Linus making a spectacle of himself. Good luck, even the mighty Youtube is short on videos of Linus being an idiot. Now, do the same for Steve Ballmer. Where as the search for Linus starts out with a tech talk about git, the video searches for Steve Ballmer start out with Crazy Ballmer.
It's obvious that Steve Ballmer, like a certain Presidential Candidate for the Democrats, desperately needs a speech writer, and honestly needs somebody else actually doing the presentation. From an overall viewpoint, Linus's musings on technology and coding are well thought out. Most of the memorandums and emails from Ballmer come across like they were written by a 2 year old, and every time Ballmer is let out his own to do his own thinking and speaking, the results are normally akin to a train wreck.
For many then, Steve Ballmer is seen as being rude, for the sake of being rude, because he just doesn't know any better. Linus is seen as being rude in the light that there is something behind the rudeness.
Its up to the person listening to realize the message and metaphor on their own. I have little doubt that the BSD crowd will take extreme offense to having been painted in the terms of monkeys, but whether or not the BSD crowd will actually get the point behind why they are not number 1 in server usage, nor desktop usage... that's a question for another post.