Linus Torvalds

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Computing People

Linus Torvalds

Born: 28 December 1969
Helsinki, Finland
Occupation: Software engineer
Spouse: Tove Torvalds

Linus Benedict Torvalds (born December 28, 1969 in Helsinki, Finland) is a Finnish software engineer 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 (an operating system developed by Andrew S. Tanenbaum) to develop a capable Unix-like operating system that could be run on a PC. Linux now also runs on many other architectures.


Linus was born in Helsinki, Finland, the son of journalists Anna and Nils Torvalds, and the grandson of poet Ole Torvalds. His family belongs to the Swedish-speaking minority (roughly 5 %) of Finland's population. Torvalds was named after Linus Pauling, the American Nobel Prize-winning chemist, although he prefers to claim he was named after Linus in the Peanuts comic strip. 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 attended the University of Helsinki from 1988 to 1996, graduating with a master's degree in computer science. His M.Sc. thesis was titled Linux: A Portable Operating System.

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 spent a few weeks playing the game Prince of Persia before receiving his Minix copy which in turn enabled him to begin his work on Linux.

Linus is married to Tove Torvalds (born Monni). She is a six-time Finnish national Karate champion, whom he first met in the autumn of 1993. Linus was running introductory computer laboratory exercises for students and instructed the course attendants to send him an e-mail as a test, to which Tove responded with an e-mail asking for a date. 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 Sindarin name for Gandalf, a wizard in The Lord of the Rings).

Red Hat and VA Linux, both leading developers of Linux-based software, presented Torvalds with stock options in gratitude for his creation. In 1999, both companies went public and Torvalds' net worth shot up to roughly $20 million .

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 Portland, Oregon to be closer to Linus's place of work.

He worked for Transmeta from February 1997 until June 2003, and is now seconded to the Open Source Development Lab, 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 the Linux kernel.

Unlike many open source evangelists, Torvalds maintains a low profile and generally refuses to comment on competing software products. Torvalds generally stays out of non-kernel-related debates. He has been criticized for his neutrality by the free software movement, specifically for having worked on proprietary software with Transmeta and for his use and alleged advocacy of the proprietary BitKeeper software (for version control in the Linux kernel, BitKeeper was replaced by git in June, 2005). Torvalds has commented on official GNOME developmental mailing lists that, in terms of desktop environments, he encourages users to switch to KDE .

Torvalds often finds himself in the middle of competing ideologies: on one hand he is an established icon of open-source and free software, yet on the other he has supported the use of the proprietary software BitKeeper to help manage the Linux kernel and has stated that Linux may include technology supporting digital rights management for pragmatic reasons.

The Linus/Linux connection

Torvalds originally used the Minix OS on his system which he replaced with the Linux OS. He first named it Freax (a combination of "free", "freak", and the letter X to indicate that it is a Unix-like system), but his friend Ari Lemmke, who administered the FTP server where the Linux kernel was first hosted for downloading, gave Torvalds a directory called linux. (Torvalds & Diamond 2001:88)

Authority on Linux

Only about 2% 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.

Linux trademark

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


  • In 1996 Asteroid 9793 Torvalds was named after Linus Torvalds.
  • In 1998 he received an EFF Pioneer Award.
  • In 1999 he received honorary doctor status at Stockholm University.
  • In 2000 he received honorary doctor status at University of Helsinki.
  • In the 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.
  • The 2001 film Swordfish contains a Finnish character - the number one computer hacker in the world - named Axl Torvalds.
  • In 2004, he was named one of the most influential people in the world by the Time magazine article "Linus Torvalds: The Free-Software Champion" by Lawrence Lessig, Time Magazine, posted Monday, Apr. 26, 2004, retrieved October 3rd, 2006.
  • 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.
  • In August 2005, Torvalds received the Vollum Award from Reed College.
  • In 2006, Business 2.0 magazine named him one of "10 people who don't matter".
  • In 2006, Time Magazine names him one of the revolutionary heroes of the past 60 years.
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