Linus Torvalds's Biography

Linus Torvalds Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds


  • Born
    28 December 1969
  • Died
  • Sex
  • Nationality
  • Citizen
    United States

Who is Linus Torvalds?

Named by Time magazine as the ‘one of the most influential people in the world’, Linus Torvalds is the creative genius behind the Linux kernel operating system. He wrote it as a part of his Master’s thesis titled, ‘Linux: A Portable Operating System' at the young age of 21. Listed in The Britannica Guides 'The 100 Most Influential Inventors of All Time', he is also listed 17th on the Time magazine’s poll of ‘Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century'. He is one of the world’s most renowned software programmers, who revolutionised the computer industry. He even has an asteroid and an asteroid moon named after him. He is the owner of the Linux trademark and is one of the highest authorities who decide the incorporation of new codes. He has a total of 35 applied and granted patents internationally. He served as one of the chief architects of the Linux kernel operating system and currently works as the main coordinator of the project. He has authored a memoir titled, ‘Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary'.

Early Life and Family of Linus Torvalds

Linus Benedict Torvalds was born on December 28, 1969 in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. He was named after Linus Pauling, the famous physical chemist and Nobel Prize winner. He is the grandson of the Finnish-Swedish journalist and poet, Ole Torvalds

The Torvalds family belongs to the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, which numbers about 300,000 in a total population of roughly five million.

Many members of the family were journalists. His parents, Nils and Anna Torvalds, were both radicals at the University of Helsinki during the 1960s.Many members of the family were journalists. His parents, Nils and Anna Torvalds, were both radicals at the University of Helsinki during the 1960s. His father was a Communist who spent a year studying in Moscow in the mid-1970s and later became a radio journalist. His mother worked for a Finnish newspaper as a translator and a creator of news graphics. Also, his grandfather was the editor-in-chief of a Finnish newspaper, and his uncle worked for Finnish TV.

Torvalds had a fairly conventional and happy childhood despite the fact that his parents were divorced when he was very young. He lived with his mother and also with his grandparents. Consistent with his family's occupation, emphasis was placed on reading from an early age.

It was his maternal grandfather, Leo Toernqvist, a professor of statistics at the University of Helsinki, who had the greatest influence on the young Linus. In the mid-1970s, Toernqvist bought one of the first personal computers, a Commodore Vic 20. Torvalds soon became bored with the few programs that were available for it, and he thus began to create new ones, first using the BASIC programming language and then using the much more difficult but also more powerful assembly language.

Programming and mathematics became Torvalds' passions.

The Birth of Linux

At age 10 Torvalds began to dabble in computer programming on his grandfather’s Commodore VIC-20. In 1991, while a computer science student at the University of Helsinki (M.S., 1996), he purchased his first personal computer (PC). He was not satisfied, however, with the computer’s (OS). His PC used MS-DOS (the from href="">Microsoft Corp.), but Torvalds preferred the UNIX operating system he had used on the university’s computers. He decided to create his own PC-based version of UNIX. Months of determined programming work yielded the beginnings of an operating system known as Linux. In 1991 he posted a message on the Internet to alert other PC users to his new system, made the software available for free downloading, and, as was a common practice among software developers at the time, he released the source code, which meant that anyone with knowledge of computer programming could modify Linux to suit their own purposes. Because of their access to the source code, many programmers helped Torvalds retool and refine the software, and by 1994 Linux kernel (original code) version 1.0 was released.

Operating Linux required a certain amount of technical acumen; it was not as easy to use as more popular operating systems such as Windows, Apple’s href="">Mac OS, or IBM OS/2. However, Linux evolved into a remarkably reliable, efficient system that rarely crashed. Linux became popular in the late 1990s when competitors of Microsoft began taking the upstart OS seriously. Netscape Communications Corp., Corel Corp., Oracle Corp., Intel Corp., and other companies announced plans to support Linux as an inexpensive alternative to Windows. In addition to Linux being free, its source code can be viewed and freely modified by anyone, unlike a proprietary OS. This means that different language versions can be developed and deployed in markets that would be too small for the traditional companies. Also, many organizations and governments have expressed security reservations about using any kind of computer software that contains code that cannot be viewed. For all of the above reasons, localized versions of Linux have become common in China and many other non-Western countries.

Personal Life

As a result of his skills and accomplishments, Torvalds was appointed to the post of instructor at the University of Helsinki, a position which allowed him to simultaneously continue his development of Linux. The first homework assignment for an introductory computer class that he taught in 1993 was for each student to send him an e-mail. One of the students, Tove Minni, a Finnish karate champion, compiled by sending him an e-mail asking him out on a date. He accepted, and three years later Tove and Linus were married and have three daughters, Patricia Miranda (born 1996), Daniela Yolanda (born 1998), and Celeste Amanda (born 2000), two of whom were born in the United States.The Linux kernel's reboot system call accepts their dates of birth (written in hexadecimal) as magic values.

Move to California

After spending nearly a decade as a student, researcher and instructor at the University of Helsinki, Torvalds decided that it was time for a change -- a big one that included both a change of scenery and a real job. Needless to say, there was no shortage of opportunities available to him.

Thus, in 1997 he moved to sunny Santa Clara in California's fabled Silicon Valley to accept a position with Transmeta Corporation. His job there was to help develop commercial software to facilitate communication between operating systems and that company's microprocessors. Linux devotees were initially concerned not only about his move to a for-profit business but also about the fact that it was funded in part by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

For Torvalds, however, the decision was not difficult. Not only was it an opportunity for a change and to experience a much improved climate (from the long, cold and dark Finnish winters), but Silicon Valley was the ultimate destination for almost everyone in the computer field, even him. Moreover, he now had a growing family to support. His choice of company was also affected by the fact that Transmeta was not involved with Linux, as he was reluctant to favor one Linux business over another.

Torvalds' arrangement with Transmeta permitted him to devote part of his time to his Linux activities. This was, in fact, a clever publicity move on the part of Transmeta, which benefited not only by receiving the services of an extremely talented and motivated engineer but also by having someone on their staff who brought them exceptional media attention.

Torvalds arrived in Silicon Valley when Microsoft was decimating Netscape in the browser war and when many people in the U.S. and elsewhere were hoping for a new, and more robust, challenger to the Microsoft monopoly. Frequent comparisons were made between Torvalds and Bill Gates, but the main similarities were that both were fanatical computer programmers, both wore glasses and both were about the same height.

Gates had become fabulously wealthy, whereas Torvalds was making close to nothing from his free software. He was subsisting only on an average programmers salary, and he and his family were living in a modest duplex in an ordinary neighborhood. Actually, Torvalds was never really interested in accumulating wealth or power, and he has contended all along that what counts most for the best programmers is the joy of programming and being creative. In his own words, he did it all "just for fun." Nevertheless, he was subsequently rewarded with both wealth and power, and he has not been reluctant to admit that money has its advantages.

Torvalds' financial situation changed dramatically in 1999. Red Hat and VA Linux (now VA Software), both leading developers of Linux-based software packages for large enterprises, had presented him with stock options in gratitude for his creation. Torvalds suddenly became a millionaire when Red Hat went public, and his net worth temporarily soared to roughly $20 million when VA Linux went public later that year.

Awards & Achievements

In 1998, he was a recipient of the EFF Pioneer Award.

In 1999, he was given the title of 'one of the top 100 innovators, under the age of 35, in the world' by MIT Technology Review TR100.

In 2000, he was the recipient of the Lovelace Medal, which was conferred by the British Computer Society.

In 2001, along with Richard Stallman and Ken Sakamura, he shared the Takeda Award for Social/Economic Well-Being.

In 2005, he was given the Vollum Award from Reed College.

In 2008, he became an inductee into the Hall of Fellows of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

In 2010, he was awarded the C&C Prize by the NEC Corporation.

In 2012, he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

In 2012, he was one of the recipients of the Millennium Technology Prize.

Famous quotes of Linus Torvalds

“Talk is cheap. Show me the code”.

“Software is like sex: it's better when it's free”.

“Intelligence is the ability to avoid doing work, yet getting the work done”.

“Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”.

See Also

Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds

Information Technologies
Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Information Technologies