Linus Torvalds

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Linus Torvalds
Birthname Linus Torvalds
Date of Birth 28 December, 1969
Birth Place Helsinki, Finland
Nationality Finnish-American
Occupation Code Manager
Biography Creator of the Linux operating system and Git version control system

Linus Benedict Torvalds [1] ( born 28 December, 1969, Helsinki, Finland) is a Finnish-American Code Manager and Maintainer. Linus is the creator of the Linux Kernel; a foundation for the open-source operating system, and Git, the world's most popular version control manager.

Today, Linux runs the internet [2]. Linux is, by far, the most popular foundation for mobile phones and servers. Torvalds remains involved with Linux through his position as a fellow at the Linux foundation, where he is responsible for moderating changes to the Kernel's source code [3] While widely regarded, Torvalds has historically eschewed politeness and manors in his management of Linux, leading to some level of controversy.

Personal Life

Early Life, Education

Torvalds was born into a family of two journalists and five siblings. Linus' interest in computers began early, after being sparked by his Grandfather [4], a professor of Statistics at the University of Helsinki. By the age of ten, Torvalds was writing programs in BASIC on his grandfather's computer. [5]. In the words of his sister, Sarah, "Just give Linus a spare closet with a good computer in it and feed him some dry pasta, and he'll be perfectly happy." [6] Linus was often received as an introvert; quiet, studious: he preferred to be with books over people. [7] Torvalds has described his father as "virile," wearing "bullet-proof vests." Torvalds' father would often push he and his siblings into sports and activities, which he was generally apathetic towards [8]

"Young Linus Torvalds, Right"

Torvalds' received his master's degree in Computer Science from the University of Helsinki [9]. Today, Torvalds remains the most well-recognized alumni from that program. Linus, in particular, credited the University with giving him "pretty free reign to work on Linux." [10]

Family and Views

While at the University of Helsinki, Torvalds met his wife, Tove.[11]. Tove was a student in a class Linus was teaching; she asked him on a date via email. The pair went on to have three daughters, two being born in the United States.

Torvalds has, in prior decades, described himself as being liberal, yet ultimately apolitical. [12] In particular, Torvalds fears "organized religion, because it usually leads to misuses of power." Torvalds has also described his distaste for the politicalization of religion in the United States, stating: "religion has become politicized, so you have the fringe people in the news. And then people are afraid to talk about it because it has political implications, and that's usually not true in most of Europe. Religion is a personal matter, but does not matter for anything else. And I think that's how it should be done."

As a native Finn, Torvalds has described his homeland as being full of "virile men" and Caribou. Torvalds credits his exposure to technology as a child to Finlands' technological prowess. In Tovalds' words, the country's small, homogeneous population and forward-thinking ideology allows for the quick adaptation of new technologies. Simultaneously, the country's dark, dreary climate further pushed Torvalds' into his work: "Programming. Sex. Drinking. There's not much else to do [in Finland]." [13]

Ultimately, Torvalds moved to the United States for a chance to work on more advanced technology. He also described himself as being "completely converted to the U.S. belief that you encourage people to do things by rewarding them, as opposed to be fair by even rewarding bad people." Torvalds described what he perceived to be a more competitive, yet less envious atmosphere in the country. Yet, in many ways Torvalds maintained his non-capitalistic upbringing. After receiving an overture to work together from Steve Jobs, Torvalds stated "I think he was surprised that his arguments, which were the Apple market share arguments--which would have made an impression on people who did this for commercial reasons--had absolutely no impact on me" [14]



Torvalds' motivation for creating Linux was simple: he disliked MS-DOS. As a student at the University of Helenski, Torvalds had grown accustom to an UNIX system interface. However, there were no UNIX implementations that were easily available on home computers. Torvalds set out to change this, with his implementation of Linux. Although not a UNIX operating system per se, Linux is a close approximation. Crucially, Torvalds elected to make his implementation free and open source; anyone could build and use Linux, providing a unix-like environment to the masses. [15]

"The Linux logo"

Linus developed Linux on MINUX, using the GNU toolchain. Torvalds described the Operating System as "mostly C," but noted that his use of the language was significantly outside mainstream. [16] The first version of Linux was released in 1991, with only 10,000 lines of code. A second revolution, came however, with Torvalds' successful management of the project in an open source context. There was a demand for a UNIX-like operating system; developers donated their free time to improve the project. [17]

Present Use

While Linux is--by some metrics--the most widely-used OS in the world, many users do not know they are running it. While Linux proper remains popular in the personal computing, embedded and server side code arenas, the OS has also permeated the mobile space. Android, a Linux-based OS, is now the most popular in the world on a user basis. [18] In addition to smartphones, Android has made forays into other areas of mobile computing, such as tablets, watches and wearables.

Linux is ubiquitous in the web and server infrastructure world. By some estimates, more than 96% of web servers run Linux. [19] Due in part to Linux's success, the tech industry has trended more towards open source code as a whole. [20] Open source jobs are growing at a rate much faster than their closed-source counterparts. Open source projects are considered easier to maintain. [21]

Despite Linux's association with the free and open source software movement, Torvalds claims care little for open source. In fact, he views it simply as an engine for comments and feedback [22]. This places him somewhat at odds with figures like Richard Stallman. [23] In Torvalds' view, open source is "just a superior way of working together and generating code"; the project simply needed more eyes.

Ethical Ramifications

Public Image and Controversy

In the tech community, Torvalds is known for his austere demeanor and pithy speech. Torvalds delights in shaming is Kernel contributors--and throwing insults in general [24]. For example: “Please just kill yourself now. The world will be a better place” and “Guys, this is not a dick-sucking contest.” Torvalds' style of discourse has proven controversial both in and outside of his development community. On one hand, many defend Torvalds' with his historical argument: respect should be earned [25]. Torvalds is often rude; however, in his view, this is simply transactional. A means to an end. On the other hand, Torvalds' behavior has drawn heavy criticism from concerned individuals and the media. Torvalds has been accused of implicitly tolerating sexism and homophobia, among others, in his community. In particular, members of the Linux development community have described Torvalds' "lifetime of not understanding emotions." [26]

By some accounts, however, Torvalds' behavior in-person is different. Where one my find many page long, angry tirades emanating from his email account, the man offline is--while still unafraid to speak his mind--slightly more subdued. [27]This facet of Torvalds' life is reminiscent of Dean Cocking's wirings on plurality of identity; it may be easier for Torvalds to unleash emotion in the context of his own community. [28]

"Torvalds gives Nvidia the middle finger,"

Ultimately, Torvalds' style of management caught up with him. In 2018, Torvalds temporaily stepped down from his position in the Linux foundation, citing his need for sensitivity training. In Torvalds' words: “[I need to] get some assistance on how to understand people’s emotions and respond appropriately.” [29]. Linus offered the following apology:

“The above is basically a long-winded way to get to the somewhat painful personal admission that hey, I need to change some of my behavior, and I want to apologize to the people that my personal behavior hurt and possibly drove away from kernel development entirely. I am going to take some time off and get some assistance on how to understand people's emotions and respond appropriately."

Larger Ramifications

Torvalds' behavior is symptomatic of a larger set of trends in the technology industry. Torvalds, as a self-stylized benevolent dictator, maintains full control over his project. In some ways, this is ideal. As the creator of Linux, Torvalds is an excellent choice to steward the platform's progression. At the same time, however, flaws in Torvalds' character--that without such importance, may be considered minor--are magnified.

In some ways, the problems faced by Torvalds and his Linux Foundation mirror those faced by other open platforms. One example is Wikipedia [30]. Where the Wikipedia foundation has very successfully distributed responsibility outwards, away from a single individual, the open source community has been less successful in this regard. Some have suggested that the project would benefit were it not under such authoritarian control.[31]


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  11. Linus
  25. [ Linus's Argument
  28. Cocking, D. (2008). Plural Selves and Relational Identity: Intimacy and Privacy Online. In J. Van den Hoven & J. Weckert (Eds.), Information Technology and Moral Philosophy (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Public Policy, pp. 123-141). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511498725.008