Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds

Linus Benedict Torvalds (born December 28 1969) is best known for initiating the development of the Linux kernel. He now acts as the project's coordinator (or Benevolent Dictator for Life).

Linus was inspired by Minix (a kernel and operating system developed by Andrew Tanenbaum), to develop a capable UNIX operating system that could be run on a PC.


Torvalds was born in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, as the son of Anna and Nils Torvalds, and the grandson of poet Ole Torvalds. His family belonged to the Swedish-speaking minority (roughly 6%) of Finland's population. Torvalds was named after Linus Pauling, the American Nobel Prize-winning chemist. Both of his parents were campus radicals at the University of Helsinki in the 1960s. His father was a communist who in the mid-1970s spent a year studying in Moscow. Torvalds was embarassed when other children would tease him about his father's political views.

Torvalds attended the University of Helsinki from 1988 to 1996, graduating with a master's degree in computer science. He wrote his M.Sc. thesis, titled Linux: A Portable Operating System, on Linux.

His interest in computers began with a Commodore VIC-20. After the VIC-20 he purchased a Sinclair QL which he modified extensively, especially its operating system. He programmed an assembler and a text editor for the QL, as well as a few games. He is known to have written a Pac Man clone named Cool Man. In 1990 he purchased an Intel 80386-based IBM PC and began his work on Linux.

Linus is married to Tove Torvalds. She is a six-time Finnish national Karate champion, whom he first met in fall 1993. They have three daughters, Patricia Miranda (born December 5, 1996), Daniela Yolanda (born April 16, 1998) and Celeste Amanda (born November 20, 2000), and a cat named Randi (short for Mithrandir, the Elvish name for Gandalf, a wizard in The Lord of the Rings).

Torvalds moved to San Jose, California and lived there for several years with his family. In June of 2004, Torvalds and his family moved to Lake Oswego, Oregon. Finally, they moved to Portland, Oregon to be closer to Linus' place of work.

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.

His personal mascot is a penguin nicknamed Tux, which has been 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. He has been criticized for his neutrality by the GNU project, specifically for having worked on proprietary software with Transmeta and for his use and alleged advocacy of the proprietary BitKeeper software. Despite his neutral nature, Torvalds has vehemently defended open-source and free software against what he perceives as slander or lip service by proprietary software vendors.

The Linus / Linux connection

Torvalds originally used the Minix OS on his system which he replaced with his own OS, Linux (Linus's Minix). However, Torvalds thought the name "Linux" was too egotistical and planned to rename it Freax (a combination of "free", "freak", and the letter X to indicate a Unix-like system). But, before the name was changed, his friend Ari Lemmke encouraged Torvalds to upload Linux 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 [1] his creation on the USENET newsgroup comp.os.minix.

Only about 5% of the current Linux kernel is written by Torvalds himself. Despite the relative size of his contribution, Torvalds remains the ultimate authority on what new code is incorporated into the Linux kernel. Torvalds tends to stay out of non-kernel-related debates. The Linux kernel, when combined with software developed by many others, (mainly the GNU system) results in a so-called Linux distribution. Most people refer to this combination as just Linux. However some, including Richard Stallman, refer to it as "GNU/Linux." Torvalds maintains that the name "GNU/Linux" is only justified if you make a GNU-based distribution.

Torvalds owns the "Linux" trademark, and monitors [2] use (or abuse) of it chiefly through the non-profit organization Linux International. Linux's wide and passionate userbase make trademark abuse difficult as it is rapidly detected.


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 BusinessDaily.


  • Himanen, Pekka; Torvalds, Linus; & Castells, Manuel (2001). The Hacker Ethic. Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0-43-620550-5.

  • Torvalds, Linus & Diamond, David (2001). Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-662072-4.

External links


This article or parts of this article are based on the Wikipedia article Linus Torvalds licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2 or later. A list of the authors can be found here: [3]. You can help to improve the article.