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The story of Linus Benedict Torvalds began on 28th of December 1969 in Helsinki, Finland. Almost thirty years later he became known as a software engineer, most famous for developing Linux; a free open-source operating system based on Unix

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The story of Linus Benedict Torvalds began on 28th of December 1969 in Helsinki, Finland. Almost thirty years later he became known as a software engineer, most famous for developing Linux; a free open-source operating system based on Unix.

The son of journalists Anna and Nils Torvalds was interested in information technology from the very beginning. He studied in the University of Helsinki from 1988 to 1996 and graduated with a master’s degree in computer science. His master’s thesis was titled Linux: A Portable Operating System. In a way, he was born to be a revolutionary. His parents were campus radicals and communists and sometimes he was terribly embarrassed by them. His interest in computers began with Commodore VIC-20 which is one of the earliest forms of computers introduced in Europe in 1981. After Commodore he used Sinclair QL, which is said to be his first true love, to program an assembler and text editor for the QL in addition to some games. In the early 1990 he purchased an IBM PC and received a Minix copy which with Unix forms the basis on his work on Linux.

The story of Linux can be traced back to the spring and summer of 1991 when Torvalds wrote the kernel of an operating system at his parent’s apartment in Helsinki. He posted the kernel on the Internet on September 17th and invited other programmers to test and improve the code. [Test the Waters] The instructions were to use Linux, but any changes, new features or improvements must be shared with everyone else without costs. His reasons for putting Linux available for everyone were pretty selfish. “I didn’t want the headache of trying to deal with parts of the operating system that I saw as the crap work. I wanted help.” [Evangelist, Ask for Help] Linux has said to be one of the largest single collaborative projects in the world, because it is actually written by, not only Linus, but also tens of thousand other programmers. [Involve Everyone]

What makes Linux so influential is its growth in the market for serves and the centralized computers that power Internet and corporate networks. According to some of the researches in the field of information technology such as Goldman Sachs, it is only a matter of time before Linux displaced Unix as a dominant operating system. One of the aspects that make Linux so revolutionary as software is that it can be, in fact, downloaded for free from the Internet. Linux is stated to be the code of programmers programming out of love instead of a paycheque. The idea behind Linux was do what you want to improve to code but share the source of code you added. [Just Do It] Linux is strong enough to run the world’s most powerful supercomputers and versatile enough to run consumer toys like TiVo. With Linux you can also run portable devices such as cell phones or television set-top boxes. Today Linux has gained the support of corporations such as IBM, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard [Connector].

From the beginning of Linux, Torvalds had a group of maintainers around him. [Ask for Help] The maintainers are programmers whose contributions impressed him in a particular way, such as networking. Nowadays he has dozens of maintainers helping him to manage upcoming versions of Linux. [Group Identity]. The decision whether the code is accepted or not he makes based on whether he feels a design is clean, high quality and whether it is going to be easy to service and if it is needed by a broad set users.
At the moment, more than 18 million people around the globe are using Linux. Only about 2 % of the Linux kernel is originally written by Torvalds himself but he will always remain the developer and the figurehead of Linux. He owns the trademark of Linux and he is also in charge of the non-profit organization based around Linux, Linux International.

What makes Linus Torvalds so special from many other open source developers? First of all, he maintains a low profile and has refused to comment on competing software products. He has said, that he prefers to stay out of non-kernel-related debates and he is also been criticized for being neutral when it comes to free software movement. Secondly, he became known as ordinary Joe and his humble character appeals to millions of fans all over the world. Among the users of Linux he is viewed as an intelligent modern day warrior who was brave enough to challenge the most powerful technology companies in the world. What is the most appealing is that he was smart enough to win. Thirdly, one of the secrets to Torvald’s success is in addition to his technological achievements, is his disarming personality. According to Cliff Mille, an early Linux contributor, Linus Torvalds is a great leader, who may not even realize it himself. He has no formal management training, but still he is highly held in repute among his employees. His relationship with Linux is more based on loyalty than the legal aspects. He owns the rights to the name and that is all. Torvalds has a good human touch. [Evangelist].

Linus Torvald’s efforts on information technology are highly recognized. In 2004 he was named one of the most influential people in the world by the Time magazine. Also in his home country, Finland, Torvalds is highly appreciated. In the summer of 2004 he was placed 16th in the search for the 100 Greatest Finns. A survey by Business Week in 2005 appeared him as one the best managers. In 2006 he was nominated again by the Time magazine as one of the revolutionary heroes of the past 60 years. [In Your Space].

At the moment he is living in Portland, Oregon with his wife Tove, a six- time Finnish karate champ and their three daughters, Patricia, Miranda and Daniela. They also have a cat called Randi. His personal mascot is a penguin named Tux, which has also been widely adopter by the Linux community as the mascot of the Linux kernel. He works from home in the Open Source Development Lab, which is a corporate-funded consortium created to foster improvements to Linux. Today he is worth roughly $20 million.

Linux Torvalds was a man with a vision. He was brave enough to challenge the most powerful technology companies in the world by developing a free open-source system, Linux. What makes him a true Evangelist is that he did not do all this to gain personal advantage; he did it for all of us.

Author: Annukka Rissanen


Diamond, David. (2003, July). The Peacemaker. Wired Magazine.
Lawrence Lessig. (2004, April 26th). Linus Torvalds: The Free-Software Champion. Time Magazine.
Manns, M.L. & Rising, L. (2005). Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas.

Boston: Addison-Wesley.

Rivlin, Gary. (2003, November). Leader of the Free World.
Torvalds, Linus; David Diamond (2001). Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary.


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