Linus Torvalds

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Linus Torvalds
LinuxCon Europe Linus Torvalds 03.jpg
Torvalds at LinuxCon Europe 2014
Born Linus Benedict Torvalds
(1969-12-28) December 28, 1969 (age 45)
Helsinki, Finland
Residence Dunthorpe, Oregon, United States[1]
Nationality Finnish, American (naturalized in 2010)[2]
Alma mater University of Helsinki (M.S.)[3]
Occupation Software engineer
Employer Linux Foundation
Known for Linux kernel, git
Spouse(s) Tove Torvalds
Children 3
Parent(s) Nils Torvalds (father)
Anna Torvalds (mother)[4]
Relatives Leo Törnqvist (grandfather)
Ole Torvalds (grandfather)
Website (outdated)

Linus Benedict Torvalds (/ˈlnəsˈtɔrvɔːldz/;[5] Swedish: [ˈliːn.ɵs ˈtuːr.valds]; born December 28, 1969) is a Finnish American[2][6] software engineer, who was the principal force behind the development of the Linux kernel that became the most popular kernel for operating systems, like GNU and Android. He later became the chief architect of the Linux kernel and now acts as the project's coordinator. He also created the distributed revision control system git. He was honored, along with Shinya Yamanaka, with the 2012 Millennium Technology Prize by the Technology Academy Finland "in recognition of his creation of a new open source operating system for computers leading to the widely used Linux kernel".[7] He is also the recipient of the 2014 IEEE Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award.[8]


Early years[edit]

Torvalds was born in Helsinki, Finland. He is the son of journalists Anna and Nils Torvalds,[9] and the grandson of statistician Leo Törnqvist and of poet Ole Torvalds. Both of his parents were campus radicals at the University of Helsinki in the 1960s. His family belongs to the Swedish-speaking minority. Torvalds was named after Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize–winning American chemist, although in the book Rebel Code Linux and the Open Source Revolution, Torvalds is quoted as saying, "I think I was named equally for Linus the Peanuts cartoon character", noting that this makes him half "Nobel Prize–winning chemist" and half "blanket-carrying cartoon character".[10]

Torvalds attended the University of Helsinki between 1988 and 1996,[11] graduating with a master's degree in computer science from NODES research group.[12] His academic career was interrupted after his first year of study when he joined the Finnish Army Uusimaa brigade, in the summer of 1989, selecting the 11-month officer training program to fulfill the mandatory military service of Finland. In the army he held the rank of second lieutenant, with the role of a ballistic calculation officer.[13] Torvalds bought computer science professor Andrew Tanenbaum's book Operating Systems: Design and Implementation, in which Tanenbaum describes MINIX, an educational stripped-down version of Unix. The book changed Torvalds' life: he was fascinated by the clear structure of the Unix and its underlying philosophy. In 1990, he resumed his university studies, and was exposed to UNIX for the first time, in the form of a DEC MicroVAX running ULTRIX.[14] His M.Sc. thesis was titled Linux: A Portable Operating System.[15]

His interest in computers began with a Commodore VIC-20,[16] at the age of 11 in 1981, initially programming in BASIC – and later in assembly language. After the VIC-20 he purchased a Sinclair QL, which he modified extensively, especially its operating system. "Because it was so hard to get software for it in Finland, Linus wrote his own assembler and editor (in addition to Pac-Man graphics libraries)"[17] for the QL, as well as a few games.[18][19] He is known to have written a Pac-Man clone named Cool Man. On January 5, 1991[20] he purchased an Intel 80386-based clone of IBM PC[21] before receiving his MINIX copy, which in turn enabled him to begin work on Linux. The first prototypes of Linux were publicly released later that year.[10][22] Version 1.0 was released on March 14, 1994.[23]

Torvalds first encountered the GNU Project in 1991, after another Swedish computer science student Lars Wirzenius took him to the University of Technology to listen to free software-guru Richard Stallman's speech. Torvalds used Stallman's General Public License version 2 (GPLv2) for his Linux kernel.

Later years[edit]

After a visit to Transmeta in late 1996,[4] Torvalds accepted a position at the company in California, where he would work from February 1997 until June 2003. He then moved to the Open Source Development Labs, which has since merged with the Free Standards Group to become the Linux Foundation, under whose auspices he continues to work. In June 2004, Torvalds and his family moved to Dunthorpe, Oregon,[1] to be closer to the OSDL's Beaverton, Oregon–based headquarters.

From 1997 to 1999, he was involved in 86open helping to choose the standard binary format for Linux and Unix. In 1999 he was named by the MIT Technology Review TR100 as one of the world's top 100 innovators under age 35.[24]

In 1999, Red Hat and VA Linux, both leading developers of Linux-based software, presented Torvalds with stock options in gratitude for his creation.[25] That same year both companies went public and Torvalds' share value temporarily shot up to roughly $20 million.[26][27]

His personal mascot is a penguin nicknamed Tux,[28] which has been widely adopted by the Linux community as the mascot of the Linux kernel.[29]

Although Torvalds believes "open source is the only right way to do software", he also has said that he uses the "best tool for the job", even if that includes proprietary software.[30] He was criticized for his use and alleged advocacy of the proprietary BitKeeper software for version control in the Linux kernel. Torvalds subsequently wrote a free-software replacement for BitKeeper called git.

In 2008, Torvalds stated that he used the Fedora distribution of Linux because it had fairly good support for the PowerPC processor architecture, which he had favoured at the time.[31] His usage of Fedora was confirmed in a later 2012 interview.[32]

Currently, the Linux Foundation sponsors Torvalds so he can work full-time on improving Linux.[33]

The Linus/Linux connection[edit]

Initially, Torvalds wanted to call the kernel he developed 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 kernel was first hosted for download, named Torvalds' directory linux.[34]

Authority and trademark[edit]

As of 2006, approximately two percent of the Linux kernel was written by Torvalds himself.[27] Because thousands have contributed to the Linux kernel, this percentage is one of the largest contributions to it. However, he stated in 2012 that his own personal contribution is mostly merging code written by others, with little programming.[35] Torvalds retains the highest authority to decide which new code is incorporated into the standard Linux kernel.[36]

Torvalds owns the "Linux" trademark and monitors the use of it,[37] chiefly through the Linux Mark Institute.

Personal life[edit]

Torvalds in 2002

Linus Torvalds is married to Tove Torvalds (née Monni)—a six-time Finnish national karate champion—whom he first met in the autumn of 1993.[38] Linus was running introductory computer laboratory exercises for students and instructed the course attendees to send him an e-mail as a test, to which Tove responded with an e-mail asking for a date.[10] Tove and Linus were later married and have three daughters, Patricia Miranda (born 1996), Daniela Yolanda (born 1998), and Celeste Amanda (born 2000),[39] two of whom were born in the United States.[6] The Linux kernel's reboot system call accepts their dates of birth (written in hexadecimal) as magic values.[40][41]

Torvalds describes himself as "completely a-religiousatheist", adding that "I find that people seem to think religion brings morals and appreciation of nature. I actually think it detracts from both. It gives people the excuse to say, 'Oh, nature was just created,' and so the act of creation is seen to be something miraculous. I appreciate the fact that, 'Wow, it's incredible that something like this could have happened in the first place.'" He later added that while in Europe religion is mostly a personal issue, in America it has become very politicized. When discussing the issue of church and state separation, Torvalds also said, "Yeah, it's kind of ironic that in many European countries, there is actually a kind of legal binding between the state and the state religion."[42]

In 2010, Torvalds became a United States citizen and registered to vote in the United States. He is unaffiliated with any U.S. political party, saying, "I have way too much personal pride to want to be associated with any of them, quite frankly."[6]



IEEE Computer Pioneer Award[edit]

On April 23, 2014, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers named Torvalds as the 2014 recipient of the IEEE Computer Society's Computer Pioneer Award. The Computer Pioneer Award was established in 1981 by the IEEE Computer Society Board of Governors to recognize and honor the vision of those whose efforts resulted in the creation and continued vitality of the computer industry. The award is presented to outstanding individuals whose main contribution to the concepts and development of the computer field was made at least 15 years earlier.[43]

Internet Hall of Fame[edit]

On April 23, 2012, at Internet Society's Global INET conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Torvalds was one of the inaugural inductees into the Internet Hall of Fame, one of ten in the Innovators category and thirty-three overall inductees.[44]

Millennium Technology Prize[edit]

On April 20, 2012, Torvalds was declared one of two winners of that year's Millennium Technology Prize,[45] along with Shinya Yamanaka.[46] The honor is widely described as technology's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.


In 1997, Torvalds received his master's degree (Laudatur Grade) from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki. Two years later he received honorary doctor status at Stockholm University, and in 2000 he received the same honor from his alma mater.[47] University of Helsinki has named an auditorium after Torvalds and his computer is on display at the Department of Computer Science.

In August 2005, Torvalds received the Vollum Award from Reed College.[48]


In 1998, Torvalds received an EFF Pioneer Award.[49] In 2000 he was awarded the Lovelace Medal from the British Computer Society.[50] In 2001, he shared the Takeda Award for Social/Economic Well-Being with Richard Stallman and Ken Sakamura. In 2008, he was inducted into the Hall of Fellows of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, "for the creation of the Linux kernel and the management of open source development of the widely used Linux operating system."[51][52] 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".[53]


Time magazine has recognized Torvalds multiple times:

InfoWorld presented him with the 2000 Award for Industry Achievement.[56] In 2005 Torvalds appeared as one of "the best managers" in a survey by BusinessWeek.[57] In 2006, Business 2.0 magazine named him one of "10 people who don't matter" because the growth of Linux has shrunk Torvalds' individual impact.[58]

In summer 2004, viewers of YLE (the Finnish Broadcasting Company) placed Torvalds 16th in the network's 100 Greatest Finns. In 2010, as part of a series called The Britannica Guide to the World's Most Influential People, Torvalds was listed among The 100 Most Influential Inventors of All Time (ISBN 9781615300037).[59]


In 1996, the asteroid 9793 Torvalds was named after him. In 2003, the naming of an asteroid moon (Linus) was motivated in part by the fact that the discoverer was an enthusiastic Linux user.


As of March 2011, Torvalds has been granted 35 patents worldwide (application and granted patents).[60]


Desktop environment criticism[edit]

In 2005, on the official GNOME developmental mailing lists, Torvalds encouraged users to switch to K Desktop Environment 3 rather than use GNOME.[61][62] However, Torvalds thought KDE Plasma Desktop 4.0 was a "disaster" because of its lack of maturity, and so he had switched to GNOME by 2009.[63] Dissatisfied with his perceived loss of productivity, he switched to Xfce after the GNOME 3 release, making another harsh post against GNOME.[64] After improved KDE versions were made, he switched back to KDE Plasma Desktop 4[65] but soon switched back to GNOME 3 stating that "it has been getting less painful"[66] with Frippery and gnome-tweak-tool which he suggested to be merged into GNOME.[67]

Possible NSA approach[edit]

In September 2013, Torvalds was asked at the LinuxCon conference whether he had been approached by a US government agency to add backdoors into Linux; he responded with a verbal "no" while nodding his head "yes".[68] He later stated that it was obviously a joke.[69] However, Linus' father Nils states:

When my oldest son [Linus Torvalds] was asked the same question: "Has he been approached by the NSA about backdoors?" he said "No", but at the same time he nodded. Then he was sort of in the legal free. He had given the right answer, [but] everybody understood that the NSA had approached him.

— Nils Torvalds, LIBE Committee Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens - 11th Hearing, 11 November 2013.[68][70][71]

Professional attitude[edit]

Torvalds is well known for having a no-nonsense attitude and using colorful language when discussing with other professionals:[72]

Torvalds’ attitude and direct language have left him isolated. The proprietary software clan does not care for him. Nor do parts of the open-source clan, who want a leader more willing to spout religious zeal. Torvalds also has a tendency to be nasty to the followers he does have, peppering Linux forums with foul language and reprimands. "SHUT THE F--- UP!" he wrote to a Linux developer in 2013.[73] "Fix your f---ing ‘compliance tool,’ because it is obviously broken. And fix your approach to kernel programming." The [community] general reaction to this was: "There goes Linus again."

At the conference Linus said:[74]

"I am a really unpleasant person. Some people think I am nice and some people are then shocked when they learn different. I'm not a nice person and I don't care about you."

At an online chat with Finland’s Aalto University, Linus explained:[75]

"I’d like to be a nice person and curse less and encourage people to grow rather than telling them they are idiots. I’m sorry - I tried, it’s just not in me,"

Linus has also criticized companies:[76]

After criticizing NVIDIA’s development practices, Torvalds concluded by addressing the company directly: "NVIDIA, F-CK YOU." Torvalds proceeded to raise his hand and present his middle finger.

Linus has also criticized other operating system developers:[77]

"I think the OpenBSD crowd is a bunch of masturbating monkeys, in that they make such a big deal about concentrating on security to the point where they pretty much admit that nothing else matters to them."

Some Linux developers have called for a change in Linus professional attitude:[78]

It's time for Torvalds to stop "verbally abusing" his programmers, [Linux kernel developer] Sarah Sharp told the fiery Finn, warning him she’s "not taking it any more". The USB 3.0 driver maintainer pleaded: "You don't need to SHOUT, call me names, or tell me to SHUT THE F-CK UP!....You are in a position of power. Stop verbally abusing your developers....Linus Torvalds is advocating for physical intimidation and violence. Ingo Molnar and Linus are advocating for verbal abuse....Violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse is not acceptable. Keep it professional on the mailing lists."

To which Linus Torvalds replied: "I do it partly (mostly) because it's who I am, and partly because I honestly despise being subtle or "nice". The fact is, people need to know what my position on things are. And I can't just say "please don't do that", because people won't listen. I say "On the internet, nobody can hear you being subtle", and I mean it. "I'm not going to start wearing ties, I'm *also* not going to buy into the fake politeness, the lying, the office politics and backstabbing, the passive aggressiveness, and the buzzwords. Because THAT is what 'acting professionally' results in,"

Long time Linux kernel developer Lennart Poettering, creator of systemd, explains why he thinks the Linux community is a hostile environment:[79]

Lennart Poettering, creator of the systemd system management software for Linux, says the open-source world is "quite a sick place to be in." He also said the Linux development community is "awful" – and he pins the blame for that on Linux supremo Linus Torvalds: "A fish rots from the head down"

Poettering said Torvalds' confrontational and often foul-mouthed management style is "not an efficient way to run a community" and that it sets an example that is followed by other kernel developers, creating a hostile environment for newcomers.

What's more, he said, the kernel development community is insular and the overall tone of its discourse is likely to keep it that way.

"...the rubbish [the other linux kernel developers] pour over me is awful. I can only imagine that it is much worse for members of minorities, or people from different cultural backgrounds, in particular ones where losing face is a major issue."

Torvalds is indeed well known for his acerbic posts to Linux kernel mailing lists. Poettering cited one particular missive in which Torvalds said some kernel developers should be "retroactively aborted" for their stupidity, and in another post he said he hoped ARM system-on-chip (SoC) developers would "all die in some incredibly painful accident."

The Linux main man has no great love for the core systemd developers, either. In April Linus called top systemd coder Kay Sievers a "f-cking prima donna" and said he didn't want to ever work with him.[80]

Long time Linux kernel developer Con Kolivas agrees with this view, and explains this is the reason Con quit Linux development. Sharp followed suit in 2015 October.[81]

See also[edit]



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  2. ^ a b "Citizen Linus". September 13, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Linus Torvalds 2008 Fellow". 
  4. ^ a b "Linux Online – Linus Torvalds Bio". Archived from the original on June 26, 2004. Retrieved March 13, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Linux Pronunciation". 
  6. ^ a b c Rogoway, Mike (September 14, 2010). "Linus Torvalds, already an Oregonian, now a U.S. citizen". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 16, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Technology Academy Finland – Stem cell pioneer and open source software engineer are 2012 Millennium Technology Prize laureates". April 19, 2012. Archived from the original on January 17, 2014. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Computer-Pioneer-Award". 
  9. ^ Torvalds
  10. ^ a b c Moody, Glyn (2002). Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution. Perseus Books Group. p. 336. ISBN 0-7382-0670-9. 
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  13. ^ Torvalds, p. 29
  14. ^ Torvalds, p. 53
  15. ^ "Staff". The Linux Foundation. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  16. ^ Torvalds, pp. 6–7
  17. ^
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  19. ^ Torvalds, Linus: GMOVE. Program listing. In MikroBitti 11/1986, p. 63.
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  21. ^ Torvalds, p. 60
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  29. ^ Why a Penguin? at the Wayback Machine (archived January 13, 2007).
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  61. ^ "Printing dialog and GNOME". Retrieved March 13, 2010. 
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  63. ^ Gedda, Rodney (January 22, 2009). "Q&A: Linux founder Linus Torvalds talks about open-source identity". Computerworld. Retrieved April 24, 2012. it was a half-baked release (...) I'll revisit it when I reinstall the next machine 
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  67. ^ Heath, Nick (March 4, 2013). "Linus Torvalds switches back to Gnome 3.x desktop". ZDNet. Retrieved June 19, 2013. 
  68. ^ a b Bhati, Monika (November 21, 2013). "Did NSA contact Linus for a backdoor in Linux? [updated]". Retrieved February 26, 2015. 
  69. ^ Franceschi-Bicchierai, Muktware.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
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  71. ^ "EP LIBE #EPinquiry 11 November 2013". November 20, 2013. Retrieved November 3, 2014. 
  72. ^ Vance, Ashlee (June 16, 2015). "The Creator of Linux on the Future Without Him". Bloomberg. 
  73. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  75. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  81. ^


Further reading[edit]

  • Himanen, Pekka; Torvalds, Linus; Castells, Manuel (2001). The Hacker Ethic. Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0-436-20550-5. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Michael Grätzel
Millennium Technology Prize winner
Succeeded by
Stuart Parkin