Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds
Linus Torvalds

Linus Benedict Torvalds (born December 28, 1969) began the development of Linux, an operating system kernel, and today acts as the project coordinator (or Benevolent Dictator for Life).

Inspired by Minix (a kernel and operating system developed by Andrew Tanenbaum), he felt the need for a capable UNIX operating system that he could run on his home PC. Torvalds did the original development of the Linux kernel primarily in his own time and on his equipment.



Torvalds was born in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, as the son of Anna and Nils, and the grandson of poet Ole Torvalds. Both of his parents were campus radicals at the University of Helsinki in the 1960s, his father a Communist who in the mid-1970s spent a year studying in Moscow. This caused embarrassment to Torvalds at the time since other children would tease him about his father's politics.

His family belongs to the Swedish-speaking minority (roughly 6% of Finland's population). Torvalds was named after Linus Pauling. He attended the University of Helsinki from 1988 to 1996, graduating with a master's degree in computer science. He wrote his M.Sc. thesis about Linux entitled Linux: A Portable Operating System.

His interest in computers began with a Commodore VIC-20 which he inherited from his grandfather on his mothers side, Leo Waldemar Thrnqvist, a professor of statistics at the University of Helsinki. After the VIC-20 he purchased a Sinclair QL which he spent a lot of time modifying, especially by tweaking its operating system machine code routines. He programmed an assembler and a text editor for the QL, as well as a few games, among these a Pac Man clone named Cool Man. In 1990 he finally purchased an Intel 80386-based IBM PC and begun his work on Linux.

Torvalds lived for many years in San Jose, California with his wife Tove (six-time Finnish national Karate champion), whom he first met in fall 1993, his cat Randi (short for Mithrandir, the Elvish name for Gandalf, a wizard in The Lord of the Rings), and his three daughters Patricia Miranda (born December 5, 1996), Daniela Yolanda (born April 16, 1998) and Celeste Amanda (born November 20 2000). In June 2004, Torvalds purchased a home in Lake Oswego, Oregon and enrolled his children in school in that area. [1] (

He worked for Transmeta Corporation from February 1997 until June 2003, and is now seconded to the Open Source Development Labs, a Beaverton, Oregon based software consortium. Torvalds and his family recently moved to the Portland, Oregon area in an effort to be closer to his employer.

His personal mascot is a penguin nicknamed Tux, widely adopted by the Linux community as the mascot of Linux.

Linus's law, a tenet inspired by Torvalds but coined by Eric S. Raymond in his paper The Cathedral and the Bazaar, is: "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." A deep bug is one which is hard to find, and with many people looking for it, the hope (and so far most experience) is that no bug will be deep. Both men share an open source philosophy, which has been in part (and implicitly) based on this belief.

Unlike many open source "evangelists", Torvalds keeps a low profile and generally refuses to comment on competing software products, such as Microsoft's commercially dominant Windows operating system. He is neutral enough to even have been criticized by the GNU project, specifically for having worked on proprietary software with Transmeta and for his use and alleged advocacy of Bitkeeper. Nevertheless, Torvalds has occasionally reacted with strong statements to what has been widely perceived as anti-Linux (and anti open-source) FUD from proprietary software vendors like Microsoft or SCO. He also recently criticized Sun Microsystems' recent foray into open-source with its Solaris OS, saying "Nobody wants to play with a crippled version [of Solaris]. I, obviously, do believe that they'll have a hard time getting much of a community built up,". He also pointed out that the problem of device driver support would obviously plague the attempt. In an interview with CNET, he stated that "If you thought Linux had issues with driver availability for some things, let's see you try Solaris/x86."

For example, in one e-mail reaction to statements by Microsoft Senior-VP Craig Mundie, who criticized open source software for being non-innovative and destructive to intellectual property, Torvalds wrote: "I wonder if Mundie has ever heard of Sir Isaac Newton? He's not only famous for having set the foundations for classical mechanics (and the original theory of gravitation, which is what most people remember, along with the apple tree story), but he is also famous for how he acknowledged the achievement: If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants ... I'd rather listen to Newton than to Mundie. He may have been dead for almost three hundred years, but despite that he stinks up the room less."

The Linus / Linux connection

Torvalds originally used the Minix OS on his system which he replaced by his own OS; he gave a working name of Linux (Linus's Minix); but thought the name to be too egotistical and planned to have it named Freax (a combination of "free", "freak", and the letter X to indicate a Unix-like system). His friend Ari Lemmke encouraged Torvalds to upload it to a network so it could be easily downloaded. Ari, however, not happy with the Freax name, gave Torvalds a directory called linux on his FTP server.

In August of 1991, he publicized [2] ( his creation on the USENET newsgroup comp.os.minix.

Only about 2% of the current Linux kernel is written by Torvalds himself, though he remains the ultimate authority on what new code is incorporated into the Linux kernel; other operating system aspects (both user visible and invisible) such as the X Window System, gcc and various package management schemes are run by others. Many Linux distributions even have their own versions of the kernel. Torvalds tends to stay out of non-kernel-related debates, even among their developers. The Linux kernel written/supervised by him, when combined with software developed by many others (mainly the GNU system) results in a so-called Linux distribution. Many people refer to this combination as just Linux, and others refer to it as "GNU/Linux." Torvalds himself, as well as Richard Stallman who initiated GNU, maintain that the name "GNU/Linux" is only justified if you make a GNU-based distribution.

Torvalds owns the "Linux" trademark, and monitors [3] ( use (or abuse) of it chiefly through the non-profit organization Linux International. Needless to say, 'many eyeballs make trademark abuse difficult'; he gets help on this from the entire worldwide Linux community. Due to the Open Source philosophy, Torvalds used to dislike the fact that Linux is a trademark. However, in 1995, he had to adopt the trademark, because some other man had registered Linux himself and threatened to blackmail Torvalds.


Many Linux fans tend to worship Torvalds as a kind of god. In his book "Just For Fun" he complains that he finds it annoying.

In Time Magazine's Person of the Century Poll, Torvalds was voted at #17 at the poll's close in 2000. In 2001, he shared the Takeda Award for Social/Economic Well-Being with Richard Stallman and Ken Sakamura. In 2004, he was named one of the most influential people in the world by TIME. In the search for the 100 Greatest Finns of all time, voted in the summer of 2004, Torvalds placed 16th. In 2005 he appeared as one of "the best managers" in a survey by BusinessWeek.


External links

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