Biography of Linus Torvalds By Abdul Montaqim Table of Contents

Biography of Linus Torvalds Table of Contents
By Abdul Montaqim

Table of Contents

I. Biography of Linus Torvalds

Background and upbringing

Major accomplishments and awards

Personal life

Recap of recent news

Public statements and attributed quotes




Further Reading

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Biography of Linus

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Linus Torvalds is considered in Europe, the United States, and beyond, to be one of the
most important people of the past 100 years. Some people even call him a revolutionary

Why? Because Torvalds is the inventor and chief architect of Linux, a computer language
that has gained worldwide acceptance and popularity. Linux forms the basis of a
computer operating system in the same respect that DOS forms the basis of Microsoft
Windows, or UNIX forms the basis of the Apple Mac operating system.

But unlike the Microsoft and Apple computer operating systems, Linux is not owned by
anyone because it is open source. It also comes in many variations, or “distributions”.
And it’s become an established part of modern computing—Linux is currently celebrating
its 20th anniversary.

A Linux distribution often comes with software such as a word processor, spreadsheets,
media players and database applications — all of which make it sound like Windows —
only, Linux is free. And perhaps due to it’s availability, it gained a significant share of the
operating systems market. According to most estimates, close to 2 percent of the world’s
computers run the Linux operating system.

Let’s say there are 1 billion computers in existence on the planet (a very conservative
estimate). Linux is on almost 20 million computers. In fact, by some estimates, Linux
currently runs on more computers than does Apple’s Mac OS.

What’s even more significant, however, is that Linux is the dominant operating system on
servers and other “big iron” computers, such as mainframes and supercomputers. In
fact, some 90 percent of the world’s top 500 supercomputers use Linux as their operating
systems—and that includes the 10 fastest, according to Wikipedia.

So whether you are using a Mac or a PC right now, it’s likely that you will come into
contact with Linux, particularly as the vast majority of websites in the world are on
servers that run Linux.

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At one time, it was thought that Linux may become a much larger commercial player in
the market, possibly even threatening to seriously weaken Microsoft Windows’s
seemingly unassailable position as the number-one operation system, with 80 to 90
percent market share.

But even though it has become relatively simple to switch from Windows to Linux, only
those who are more confident with computers attempt to install Linux on their machines.
The vast majority of computer users do not change operating systems from Windows to
Linux. And even the most serious of computer geeks would not attempt to install Linux on
Apple computers.

But even though Linux has not broken out of the “techie” community in the sense that it
has not been adopted on much more than 2 percent of computers worldwide, many
people believe that it’s still early days for Torvalds’s operating system, and that it has
many more good years of expansion to come.

Linux has found a new audience — particularly with the rapid emergence of tablets and
smart phones—as the basis for the Android operating system, which currently also has
around half the market, and is growing fast.

Torvalds is also credited with other inventions such as the Git system for revision control
—which he developed as a way to keep track of all the changes happening to Linux,
(which has become way too massive a project for one person to manage). Git is
essentially a file system for large software projects, according to Torvalds.

The word “git” is British-English slang for unpleasant or contemptible person, and reveals
something of Torvalds’s self-deprecating humour. “I’m an egotistical bastard, and I name
all my projects after myself. First Linux, now git,” he said.

However, it’s believed Torvalds did not name Linux (and there are no reports of him
being a git). Torvalds had originally wanted to call his operating system Freax.

His friend Ari Lemmke, who administered the server where Linux was first hosted for
downloading, named Torvalds’s directory “linux,” obviously using Torvalds’s first name
and changing the “s” into an “x” to connect it with UNIX, the original operating system it
was based on. And that name—Linux, rather than Freax—was the one that caught on.

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Background and upbringing

Linus Benedict Torvalds was born on December 28, 1969, in Helsinki, Finland. His family
was part of Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, which represents around 5.6 percent of
Finland’s 5.4 million population.

Both his parents—Anna and Nils Torvalds—are journalists who were radical activists
during their student days at the University of Helsinki in the 1960s. Nils, who was a
communist in the early days, has since somewhat moderated his views; he now combines
politics with journalism, and won election to Helsinki City Council for the term 2009-2012.
Nils’s father, Ole, was a poet who won literary awards for his work during the 1940s, and
then later in the 1970s.

The family is believed to have named their computer genius progeny, Linus, after the
American Nobel prize-winning scientist and peace activist Linus Pauling. But Torvalds
himself once said, “I think I was named equally for Linus the Peanuts cartoon character,”
adding that this makes him half Nobel-prize-winning chemist and half blanket-carrying
cartoon character. It’s likely that this is yet more evidence of Torvalds’s modesty and
self-deprecating nature.

Torvalds’s interest in computers began with a Commodore Vic 20. His maternal
grandfather, Leo Toerngvist, had bought him one of the very first Vic 20s when young
Linus was around 10 years old. Toerngvist was a professor of statistics at the University of
Helsinki and it seems that he became a big influence in his grandson’s life.

Young Linus apparently had a happy childhood despite the fact that his parents had
divorced and he lived with his grandparents.

Partly because of his grandfather, young Linus developed a passion for programming and
mathematics. His father tried to interest him in sports, girls and other social activities but
Torvalds admits his lack of talent or interest in those pursuits meant that he would
concentrate almost exclusively on computing.

He would occupy himself mostly with the Vic 20, quickly outgrowing the few programs

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that were available for the computer at the time and learning to develop his own using
the BASIC programming language, developed by John George Kemeny and Thomas
Eugene Kurtz.

In 1987, Torvalds used his savings to buy his first computer, the Sinclair QL. The letters
“QL” stood for quantum leap and for Sinclair it really was a quantum leap from its earlier
machines. The QL was the successor to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which itself was hugely
popular in its day.

The QL was built around a Motorola microprocessor and was aimed at computer
enthusiasts and small businesses. It ran an operating system called QDOS, designed
mainly by Tony Tebby.

In those early days of personal computers, lots of enthusiasts were to learn coding on
these legendary machines. Sinclair machines, in particular, were popular with early
European geeks. The QL was an advanced computer for its time, having been designed
to compete with the IBM and Apple machines of those times. And it was the QL that
Torvalds most customised and reworked, paying particular attention to its operating

He programmed an assembly language and a text editor for the QL; he also wrote a Pac-
Man clone which he named Cool Man. But things were moving fast in the computer world
and the increasingly confident Torvalds was looking for his next challenge.

A year later, in 1988, Torvalds enrolled at the University of Helsinki. He was already a
confident programmer and excelled in computer science. After the first year, Torvalds
had to join the army to undertake his compulsory 11-month national service; he chose
officer training and, as a result, now holds the rank of second lieutenant.

When he resumed his studies in 1990, he was introduced to UNIX, a powerful computer
language developed at Bell Labs in the US by Dennis Ritchie, Douglas McIlroy, Brian
Kernighan, Ken Thompson, and Joe Ossanna. He was also introduced to the C
programming language, which was also created at Bell Labs, mainly by Dennis Ritchie, for
use with UNIX.

All the computers at the University of Helsinki ran UNIX and even today, UNIX is used to
run every kind of computer, from mission-critical mainframes to home computers such
as Apple Macs.

However, Torvalds found UNIX expensive and unwieldy; although it seemed ideal for big

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computers, it wasn’t suited to personal computing. He had bought an Intel
microprocessor-based computer which ran MS-DOS and didn’t find it suitable. He wanted
UNIX, but discovered that it cost $5,000, even for a basic UNIX computer.

So he decided to install Minix, which was a PC-compatible mini-clone of UNIX created by
Andrew Tenenbaum. But Torvalds found that Minix was not as user-friendly as he wanted
it to be. And after much frustration, he decided to invent his own language.

In 1991, he spent many months using the C programming language to develop a sharper,
more snappy and more concise computer operating system. He almost called it Freax,
but eventually decided on Linux. He then posted a message so that Minix users could see
it; and he made the source code available to other enthusiasts free of charge.

This is the message he posted:


From: (Linus Benedict Torvalds)

To: Newsgroups: comp.os.minix

Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?

Summary: small poll for my new operating system

Hello everybody out there using minix-

I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu)
for 386 (486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I'd
like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat
(same physical layout of the file-sytem due to practical reasons)among other things.

I've currently ported bash (1.08) an gcc (1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that
i'll get something practical within a few months, and I'd like to know what features most
people want.

Any suggestions are welcome, but I won't promise I'll implement them

Linus Torvalds

It’s easy to forget how ground-breaking Torvalds’s words and actions were for the time;
revolutionary, even—certainly in the world of computing. In that sense, his actions were
an echo of his parents’ revolutionary zeal many years earlier at the very same university.

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Torvalds had correctly identified a need for a flexible and user-friendly computer
language as well as conceptualised the openly collaborative process that would be
needed to develop it—and Linux became an instant hit. The community of users, though
small, took up the challenge of adding their own improvements to the language and it
quickly grew into a fully-fledged operating system.

Not only that — Torvalds had become a pioneer of what became known as the open-
source movement, a movement which, if mobilised, would probably represent the most
powerful lobby in the computing world today.

Certainly the open-source community has become a prominent fixture on the global
computing landscape and is currently looking forward to a phase of unprecedented
growth, what with the astonishing popularity of tablet computers, smart phones and other
mobile processor-based devices around the world.

Indeed, Torvalds’s work has become fundamental to the whole movement: Linux forms
the basis of the Android operating system, which, by some measures, is currently the
leading mobile computing operating system.

And it all started at the University of Helsinki, where a young computer science graduate
by the name of Linus Torvalds wrote an MSc thesis entitled Linux: A Portable Operating

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Major accomplishments and

Linus Torvalds invented a language that is used by tens of millions of people in the world
today. If he accomplishes nothing else in his life, that one gargantuan achievement would
be enough to secure his place in the history books.

At a time when computer languages were so complex they were almost impenetrable,
and at a time when computer companies were steeped in a corporate culture that made
the Cold War look like a sideshow, to have done what Torvalds did was no mean feat.

Remember, Torvalds released Linux at a time when Microsoft was well on the way to
becoming a multi-billion-dollar operation by licensing DOS to IBM’s Intel-based machines;
Apple was poised to create an entirely new market, called the desktop publishing market,
with its mouse-driven Macs. All manner of computer companies were vying for a place in
the bright new world of computers.

But both Microsoft and Apple—the leading emerging computer companies at the time—
used closed, proprietary operating systems. And by then it was widely accepted that IBM
had made a mistake in not recognising the value of software, particularly the operating

IBM belatedly tried to enter the operating systems market, but with limited success. By
then, Microsoft and Apple machines had carved out market segments that were to see
them through to this day.

In such an intense, paranoid environment, where colossal amounts of money were being
made and even more colossal amounts of money were yet to be made, no-one could
have foreseen the release of a free, open, collaborative operating system such as Linux.

Some might say that Linux should have quickly dominated the market, mainly because it
is free. But very few computer companies chose to pre-install it on their machines,
perhaps because there was no money to be made from it, and they already had deals in

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place with Microsoft.

Moreover, Linux was also limited in its reach because it quickly gained an image as an
operating system for expert computer users—commonly called “geeks” or “nerds.”

Even today, most average computer users find it difficult enough using their machines
even when it comes pre-loaded with an operating system; they do not even want to
attempt to load a different, entirely new operating system.

So the uptake, although quick, was confined mainly to the community of computer
experts from whose ranks the thousands of contributors of Linux code came from. And,
like other operating systems, Linux continues to evolve with the help of these expert
computer enthusiasts. Torvalds himself is credited with having made the single largest
contribution of code to the Linux project, at around 2 percent.

And, in any case, he started the whole adventure in the first place. He owns the “Linux”
trademark; his personal mascot—a penguin nicknamed Tux—has been adopted by the
Linux community as it’s de facto logo. And Torvalds still retains the final say on which
code contributions get added to the Linux kernel and which are rejected.

The overwhelming majority of contributions are made by serious computer enthusiasts
and experts, none of whom are paid. Linux’s organisational structure, when compared
with the traditional corporate structure for organising and managing such a massive task,
has been likened to an artistic endeavour as compared to a manufacturing process.

But money can be, and is being, made by learning Linux. Some Linux experts have gone
on to make money by starting their own enterprises. Companies such as Red Hat, Corel,
Caldera and TurboLinux started to produce their own versions of Linux on a commercial

However, Linux remains, at heart, an open-source venture. It is still managed by the
same people who created it and it is controlled in the same way, with an emphasis on
user-friendliness and reliability. As a result, Linux is more stable and more secure than
DOS, which at some point changed into Windows. This happened much to the chagrin of
Apple, who argued in court that the icon-based user interface was its own unique selling
point, and tried to stop Microsoft from adopting it.

Apple lost its case, of course, and Microsoft went on to be the dominant operating
system, running hundreds of millions of computers all over the world. Indeed Microsoft
had become so dominant in the market that many programmers who worked on and

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adopted Linux were motivated by the need to create another alternative to the
perception of a Intel-Microsoft-DOS-Windows oligarchy.

Most Linux distributions now feature an icon-based graphical user interface which, to the
untrained computer user, would probably appear indistinguishable from either Windows
or Mac OS. However, Linux adherents would argue that their operating system is more
powerful and stable.

And they may have a point. Why else would so many web and other servers as well as
supercomputers adopt Linux as the operating system?

But one big question for the past 10 years has been lingering: when will Linux break
through to the mass market? With the creation of the fast-growing mobile computing
market, it may just be on the verge of doing just that.

Torvalds himself has argued that Linux will become obsolete. In what some would say
was a shocking interview with in 2008, he said:

“I can certainly imagine the Linux kernel becoming obsolete—anything else would just be
sad, really, in the big picture.”

He said that the way people use and interact with computers simply do not change often
enough and/or fast enough to enable Linux to make significant inroads into the mass

“I don’t see any big fundamental shift in how things are done. I think that is ultimately
what may make Linux obsolete. Not in the near future, though. Software and hardware
have an amazing inertia, and ways of doing things tend to stay around for decades. So
I’m not exactly worried.”

But Torvalds is known to be outspoken, sometimes flying off the handle when talking
about software that has disappointed or frustrated him in some way. Recently he lashed
out at OpenSUSE Linux, which he actually uses as his desktop Linux. In a short posting on
his Google+ page, he spoke of his frustration at having to enter his root password to
make minor desktop changes.

Considering how widely respected he is, it’s no surprise that Torvalds’s comments get
reported widely. His comments have the capacity to make or break software companies,
or at least significantly affect their public image.

At least one commentator has called Torvalds the “godfather of the open-source

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movement”, and by all accounts he’s an honest and outspoken person. If he doesn’t like
a piece of software, he’s likely to say so, and if he says he doesn’t like it, many thousands
of his computer expert colleagues and admirers are less likely to adopt it.

In the early days, he didn’t like DOS—much like millions of other discerning computer
users around the world. But over the years, he has learned to temper his criticism of
others and now concentrates more on helping Linux grow and get better.

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Personal life

For a man who is considered to be one of the giants of our modern, technology-driven
culture, Linus Torvalds is refreshingly idiosyncratic when it comes his own opinions of
pretty much anything. Some people have said his outbursts can be child-like.

For the record, Linus Torvalds, was born on December 28th, 1969, which makes him a
mature (and not-very-child-like) 42 years of age.

However, his recent criticisms of OpenSUSE Linux were seen by some as being entirely
based on the premise that the software required the input of his password in order for it
to make some changes to his machine—a practice that seems universal when it comes to
installing applications, particularly on Apple computers.

However, his outbursts are very rare and even if they seem unreasonable, they are more
of an expression of frustration than anything else, and generally do no harm to anyone.
In fact, OpenSUSE has probably benefited from his rant in terms of its public profile.

Torvalds has occasionally ranted before about software, but seeing as he is one of the
world’s pre-eminent software experts, that’s almost his job.

Torvalds has been working with computer code since he was a child. And he has been
instrumental to say the least in creating a flourishing open-source movement and the
Linux kernel. If he hasn’t earned the right to critique software then who has?

It wasn’t long after he completed his Master’s degree that Torvalds was offered a job in
the US with a company called Transmeta, where he worked from 1997 to 2003. In 1999,
Torvalds was listed as one of the 100 top innovators in the world under the age of 35 by
the MIT’s respected journal, Technology Review.

Around the same time, Torvalds became involved in a project called 86open, which
aimed to create a common binary file format for Linux and Unix operating systems. The
file format would be useful for the increasingly widespread PC-compatible x86 computer

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In 2003, he moved to the Open Source Development Labs, which was a non-profit
organisation whose aim was to “accelerate the deployment of Linux for enterprise
computing”. The organisation was funded by a consortium who seemed to be interested
in countering the increasing dominance of Microsoft’s operating system.

In 2007, the Open Source Development Labs later merged with the Free Standards Group
to form the Linux Foundation, and narrowed its aims down to promoting Linux in
competition with Microsoft Windows.

The computing market was changing and Linux experts were increasingly finding
opportunities to make money. Two companies in particular—Red Hat and VA Linux—were
at the forefront of Linux software development.

They both gave Torvalds stock options in the company in recognition of his work as the
founding father of Linux. When the two companies went public in 1999, the value of
Torvalds’s shares rose to some $20 million.

Nowadays, Torvalds combines his working life with his family life. He got married to
longtime sweetheart Tove Monni, whom he met in 1993. Torvalds was running
introductory computer classes at the time and had asked his students to send him an
email as a test. Tove, who was one of the students, sent him an email asking for a date.
He accepted, and three years later, in 1996, the first of their three daughters was born.

In her younger days, Tove was crowned national karate champion of Finland no fewer
than six times. She took Torvalds’s family name and now Mr. and Mrs. Torvalds have
three children, all girls.

Although Tove had moved to the US to be with her husband, the couple wanted more
peaceful surroundings to bring up their young children. So they decided to move to a
quieter location in 2004, opting for Portland, Oregon. “We want to be somewhere calmer
and saner. Silicon Valley is a bit crazy,” said Torvalds.

The stock options Torvalds had with Red Hat and VA Linux had made him a multi-
millionaire and he received a further boost when large corporations started taking Linux

Oracle, Intel, Netscape and Corel and a host of other companies announced that they
would support Linux. Many of these companies were competitors of Microsoft and were
concerned about the company’s near-monopolisation of the operating systems market.

But they had decided to support Linux not simply out of a need to compete with

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Microsoft; rather, Linux was a stable and powerful operating system that seemed most
suitable for internet servers and networks, where it was quickly adopted. And it worked.
Linux has now become the undisputed leader in the server operating systems market.

It also helped that Apache, the highly successful free web server, which hosts around
two-thirds of the world’s websites, was originally specifically written for Linux.

In another move—possibly the most important acknowledgment of Linux’s arrival as a
force to be reckoned with—IBM committed $1 billion to research, development and
promotion of Linux.

While IBM may have made it sound as though its actions were altruistic in nature, the
reality was that the old behemoth was heaving under the weight of having to support its
largely unsuccessful operating systems.

IBM had practically given away the entire operating systems market by allowing Microsoft
to own DOS, even though it was IBM machines that were running the software and
making it popular. When IBM tried to persuade computer users to switch from DOS to its
own offerings, take-up wasn’t great. Plus, it was having to support a lot of computer users
who had adopted other companies’ operating systems.

So, IBM made a strategic decision to switch to Linux and the decision has paid off for the
company. Today, IBM is said to be the world’s largest vendor of Linux products and
services, earning itself many billions of dollars in the process.

At the same time, Torvalds’s brainchild stands on the edge on yet another great
technological sea-change. Mass-market mobile computing is here, and it’s bringing Linux
out from its geeky and nerdy corner into the open.

According to many reports, Android, which is based on Linux, is the leading operating
system for smart phones and tablets. And experts also predict that Linux is likely to
become the leading operating system in this market, often called embedded computing,
and looks likely to be prominent in robotics in the future.

The main advantage of using Linux in embedded computing is that it can be installed into
most types of processors. Linux is also low-cost, or free if you know how to do a lot of
stuff yourself. And there is no end of development tools available to those who want or
need to customise it.

So, all things considered, it seems that Torvalds may well have been wrong when he
predicted the demise of Linux four years ago. He had spoken just before the explosive

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growth we have witnessed in the tablet computer and smart phones markets.

He may be touched by genius when it comes to computer coding, but that doesn’t mean
he can predict the future. Sometimes maybe. But not always.

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Recap of recent news

Torvalds rarely gives interviews. Not because he’s particularly averse to talking to the
media. But the nature of computer coding work is intense, requiring of total
concentration and unabashed focus.

He may be taking it relatively easy when it comes to the hard coding part, but he still has
a crucial role, a central role in the open-source movement, particularly when it comes to
the ongoing development of the Linux kernel.

However, his comments do get reported widely in the computer news media and beyond,
and that looks likely to increase as Linux finds its way into more and more people’s hands
in the form of either a smart phone or a tablet computer.

But one thing that seems obvious about Torvalds is that he is steeped in computer
science and his comments often cannot be reduced to media-friendly sound-bytes. The
very language — the jargon of computer science — is difficult for most people to get
beyond. For someone like Torvalds, it is also language and jargon that is inescapable.
Such complex subject matter is bound to have complex language associated with it.

But when he is not talking shop, he does say things that get talked about. For example,
his comments were widely reported when he mentioned that he liked the Google Nexus,
after having spent a long time saying he doesn’t like phones.

And the fact that he now uses Google+ quite regularly is likely to increase that particular
social network’s stock, in the view of a particularly important section of netizenry.

Subjects he is highly unlikely to be interested in talking too deeply about include religion
and politics. Questioned about which way he’d vote in the US, Torvalds has been reported
as saying that he simply has “way too much personal pride to want to be associated with
any of them, quite frankly”.

His parents may have been passionate radicals, and communists, but Torvalds himself
seems distinctly aloof from politics. Having said that, it is believed his views broadly

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correspond to what could be considered mainstream opinion in Europe.

And on the subject of religion, he professes absolutely no interest, describing himself as
“completely a-religious—atheist”.

However, he does occasionally let slip a philosophical side, even when talking about
computer software. In answer to the question why doesn’t he remove all restrictions to
the Linux code, and make it free, Torvalds said:

“That word ‘free’ is actually a word I try to avoid using, because it means so many
different things.

“And no, I don't mean just the trivial difference between ‘free of cost’ (as in ‘gratis’) and
‘freedom’. Even in just the ’freedom’ meaning, different people have so many different
ideas of exactly what and who should have the ‘freedom’. It’s one reason I use the term
‘Open Source’, and one reason I’m actually known to butt heads with the FSF [Free
Software Foundation]. They make a big deal about the ‘freedom’ term, and they define it
in just very particular way.

“So what is ‘freedom’ to you? Is it ‘anarchy’—the freedom to do anything you damn well
want to do? If so, the BSD [Berkeley Software Distribution] license is certainly much more
free than the GPL [General Public Licence] is. Or is it any number of other ways to
describe what ‘freedom’ might mean? Often in very emotional terms, to boot?

“I’m not really interested in that kind of discussion. It’s what I call ‘mental masturbation’,
when you engage is some pointless intellectual exercise that has no possible meaning. So
when I try to explain my choice of license, I use the term ‘Open Source’, and try to
explain my choice of the GPLv2 not in terms of freedom, but in terms of how I want
people to be able to improve on the source code—by discouraging hiding and controlling
of the source code with a legal copyright license, everybody can build on the work of
each other, and it basically encourages a model where people end up working together.”

So there you have it. It’s not exactly television sound-byte material, but the comment
certainly offers an insight into a complex and deep intellect; the kind of mind that invents
languages that millions of people use every day.

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Public statements and attributed

Linus Torvalds, on himself:

“I have an ego the size of a small planet.”

Torvalds during a rant about how to create software that just works:

“Why don’t we write code that just works? Or absent a ‘just works’ set of patches, why
don’t we revert to code that has years of testing? This kind of ‘I broke things, so now I will
jiggle things randomly until they unbreak’ is not acceptable. Don't just make random
changes. There really are only two acceptable models of development: ‘think and
analyze’ or ‘years and years of testing on thousands of machines’. Those two really do

An off-the-cuff remark in a chat group when discussing a particular fix to a
specific software bug:

“Standards are paper. I use paper to wipe my butt every day. That's how much that
paper is worth.”

Torvalds likes coffee, and is considered something of a connoisseur:

“Every time I see some piece of medical research saying that caffeine is good for you, I
high-five myself. Because I’m going to live forever.”

During discussions about a Microsoft’s decision to get involved in contributing
to the Linux kernel:

“There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world, but that’s one major reason why I
don’t call what I do ‘free software’ any more. I don’t want to be associated with the
people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.”

In a message to the Linux kernel mailing list:

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“Theory and practice sometimes clash. And when that happens, theory loses. Every single

In an interview for the Linux Foundation:

“Real quality means making sure that people are proud of the code they write, that
they’re involved and taking it personally.”

Talking about why he loves GPL 2:

“Me, I just don’t care about proprietary software. It’s not ‘evil’ or ‘immoral’, it just doesn’t
matter. I think that Open Source can do better, and I’m willing to put my money where
my mouth is by working on Open Source, but it’s not a crusade—it’s just a superior way of
working together and generating code.

“It’s superior because it’s a lot more fun and because it makes cooperation much easier
(no silly NDAs or artificial barriers to innovation like in a proprietary setting), and I think
Open Source is the right thing to do the same way I believe science is better than
alchemy. Like science, Open Source allows people to build on a solid base of previous
knowledge, without some silly hiding.

“But I don’t think you need to think that alchemy is ‘evil’. It’s just pointless because you
can obviously never do as well in a closed environment as you can with open scientific

Torvalds answers the question of whether Microsoft was being sincere in its
attempts to work with the open source movement:

“I have no real way to judge that. I personally think that parts of Microsoft certainly are
sincere, and other parts are almost certainly not. It’s a pretty big and bloated company,
and when one hand says it wants to participate in open source, I doubt the other hand
knows or cares about it.”

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Linus Torvalds and his family are part of the Swedish minority community in Finland.
But anyway, he moved to the US in the late-1990s

Linus Torvalds was named after a famous American chemist and peace activist, Linus
Pauling, although Torvalds himself says that he was equally named after the more
famous cartoon character

The Swedish pronunciation of Linus is “Lee-nus”, but he answers to the English
pronunciation too

He is fond of Guinness, which is a dark beer popular in Ireland and other parts of

One of his hobbies is shooting—especially pistols

He owns at least one car and particular enjoys driving it—a Mercedes SLK 32 AMG

It’s well known that Torvalds and his collaborators did not like the Microsoft operating
system, DOS, which became Windows over time. Microsoft tried to undermine or even
destroy Linux at first but gradually came to work with it.

Astronomers have named an asteroid after him—the “9793 Torvalds”

In a 1999 novel by Neal Stephenson, called Cryptonomicon, a group of characters are
depicted in Finland working on a Unix-like operating system called Finux

Torvalds was voted 16th in the 2004 “100 Greatest Finns” poll by the Finnish
Broadcasting Company

The Britannica Guide to the World’s Most Influential People in 2010 listed Torvalds as
one of the 100 Most Influential Inventors of All Time

Torvalds has won many awards, including InfoWorld’s 2000 Award for Industry

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He has been recognised many times by Time magazine, which listed him 17th in its
Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century Poll

He was awarded the C&C Prize by the NEC Corporation in 2010 for “contributions to
the advancement of the information technology industry, education, research, and the
improvement of our lives”—Wikipedia

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For Linus Torvalds’s generation, computers started out as an exciting hobby. The general
feeling about them was akin to the feeling that currently exists around computer games.
Both experiences are related, but not really all that similar.

Back when Torvalds was a child, and companies like Sinclair and Commodore were
launching their machines, computer programmes could be copied onto audiotape, never
mind floppy disks. The makers of computers were well aware that their machines would
be taken apart and their innards examined by the multitudes of spotty teenagers, and
their even younger friends who had become obsessed with them.

If, like Torvalds, you were lucky enough to own a Commodore or Sinclair—or any other
computer at that time—you would understand that in those days the primary enjoyment
of owning a computer was to program it. Games were also an important part of the
offering, although Pac-Man and Space Invaders were pretty much as sophisticated as
things got. Great games, but the graphics were very basic.

Now in this age of epic-scale, super-sophisticated and highly realistic computer games,
those Sinclairs and Commodores wouldn’t last a nanosecond. The memory and
performance of those early machines are easily surpassed by today’s average mobile
phone by many orders of magnitude—and it doesn’t even have to be an average smart

However, one thing has remained the same in principle, to the average observer at least:
computer code. And those who learned enough about computer code have become
some of the most highly sought-after individuals in any advanced, or advancing, economy
around the world. Even in these times of austerity and global financial crisis, computer
scientists are still highly prized, particularly if they know Linux.

Those intensely intelligent children who persevered with what they learned in those early
days, and built on it over time, have been richly rewarded, both in terms of personal
financial gain as well as cultural and social rewards. Meaning, our world culture and

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society are far richer as a result of computers and a lot of people have made a lot of
money out of it.

Torvalds has made money. But he’s achieved something far more important: he has
created a culture, through having created a language. He didn’t do it on his own, but he
was the first one to articulate it, jot down some of the words and put them together into
sentences. He wrote a phrasebook which became essential in new territory—a territory
which now includes the worldwide web and massive multi-player games.

As has been said before, the majority of the web servers in the world run Linux, as do the
majority of the top supercomputers in the world. And if the not-so-old adage that today’s
supercomputer is tomorrow’s personal computer, then pretty soon, the vast majority of
the world’s computer users will be using some variation or distribution of Linux.

It’s unlikely, however, that Linux will ever become as dominant, or as monopolistic as,
say, Microsoft. The Linux Foundation itself—Torvalds and his many thousands of
colleagues around the world—simply would not allow it. What started out as Torvalds’s
frustration at the expensive and inadequate operating systems he found in his younger
days, has transformed into a global movement to produce high-quality open-source

And perhaps most enduring of all, Torvalds has said that he sees the computer science
developing in the way other sciences have developed—through (largely) open publication
of results, peer review and experimentation, and building on each other’s knowledge.
Seems so simple a concept that only a genius could have thought of it.

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Unofficial biography

Linus Torvalds quotes

Linus information

Wikipedia article about Linus Torvalds

Interview with Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds information

Linus Torvald “rant”

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Further Reading

Linus Torvalds on Google+

Video talk

Wired magazine article

Facebook page

Linux Foundation

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Biography of Linus Torvalds By Abdul Montaqim About The Author
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By Abdul Montaqim

About The Author

Abdul Montaqim
Abdul Montaqim is a journalist, based in London, and has been working in
the media since 1989. Among the more well known titles he has written
for are The Guardian newspaper, Time Out magazine and the
International Business Times website.

He has edited a number of local and community newspapers, magazines and websites,
and has, over the course of his career, worked for some of the largest publishers in
Europe, including Emap, LLP and Mirror Group Newspapers.

Abdul has also worked outside of the United Kingdom, moving to Abu Dhabi for a year to
work on the first national daily newspaper in United Arab Emirates, The National; and he
has consulted for media companies in Bangladesh, where he was born.

Abdul briefly worked for a New York-headquartered cable television channel called
AsiaNet as a news editor, and realised that although he loves researching, writing and
other "technical" parts of a journalist's job, he does not like presenting, preferring to be
behind the camera or back in the studio.

He also realised that, although reporting a story through the medium of television is
obviously different from telling it through a newspaper or magazine, the heart and mind
of every media company is researching and writing.

In his spare time, Abdul likes to spend time with his family, cooking, eating, watching
films, listening to music, reading and writing. When he goes out he likes to watch movies
at the best cinemas, see live music performances, and eat at good restaurants. He also
loves gardening, fishing and going for long walks.

Get in touch:

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