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Linus Torvalds

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Linus Torvalds
Linus Torvalds.jpeg
Torvalds in 2002
Born Linus Benedict Torvalds
(1969-12-28) December 28, 1969
Residence Portland, Oregon, United States
Nationality Finnish
Ethnicity Finn
Alma mater University of Helsinki
Occupation Software engineer
Employer Linux Foundation
Known for Linux kernel, Git
Spouse(s) Tove Torvalds
Children 3
Parents Nils Torvalds (father)
Anna Torvalds (mother)
Relatives Ole Torvalds (grandfather)
Website (outdated) (outdated)

Linus Benedict Torvalds (Swedish:  [ˈliːn.ɵs ˈtuːr.valds]; born December 28, 1969) is a Finnish American software engineer, who was the principal force behind the development of the Linux kernel. He later became the chief architect of the Linux kernel, and now acts as the project's coordinator. He also created the revision control system Git as well as the diving log software Subsurface. 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".


Early years

Torvalds was born in Helsinki, Finland. He is the son of journalists Anna and Nils Torvalds, and the grandson 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 (5.5% of Finland's population). 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".

Torvalds attended the University of Helsinki between 1988 and 1996, graduating with a master's degree in computer science from NODES research group. His academic career was interrupted after his first year of study when he joined the Finnish Army, 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. 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. 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 assembly language 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. On January 5, 1991 he purchased an Intel 80386-based IBM PC before receiving his MINIX copy, which in turn enabled him to begin work on Linux.

Later years

After a visit to Transmeta in late 1996, 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 Portland, Oregon, 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 top 100 innovators, under the age of 35, in the world.

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

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

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. 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.

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

The Linus/Linux connection

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.

Authority and trademark

As of 2006, approximately two percent of the Linux kernel was written by Torvalds himself. 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. Torvalds retains the highest authority to decide which new code is incorporated into the standard Linux kernel.

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

Personal life

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. Torvalds 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. Tove and Linus were later married and have three daughters, Patricia Miranda (born 1996), Daniela Yolanda (born 1998), and Celeste Amanda (born 2000), two of whom were born in the United States. The Linux kernel's reboot system call accepts their dates of birth (written in hexadecimal) as magic values.

Torvalds describes himself as "completely a-religious—atheist", 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."

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."


Internet Hall of Fame

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.

Millennium Technology Prize

On April 20, 2012, Torvalds was declared one of two winners of that year's Millennium Technology Prize, together with Shinya Yamanaka for what is widely described as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in the technology field.


In 1997, Torvalds received his Master degree (Laudatur Grade) from Department of Computer Science, University of Helsinki. Two years later he received honorary doctor status at Stockholm University, and in 2000 he received the same honour from his alma mater.

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


In 1998 Torvalds received an EFF Pioneer Award. In 2000 he was awarded the Lovelace Medal from the British Computer Society. 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. 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".


In 1996, an asteroid ( 9793 Torvalds) was named after him.


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

Desktop environment criticism

Torvalds also commented in 2005 on the official GNOME developmental mailing lists that he encouraged users to switch to K Desktop Environment 3 rather than use GNOME. 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. Dissatisfied with his perceived loss of productivity, he switched to XFCE after the GNOME 3 release, making another harsh post against GNOME. After improved KDE versions were made, he switched back to KDE Plasma Desktop 4.0 but soon switched back to GNOME 3 stating that "it has been getting less painful" with Frippery and gnome-tweak-tool which he suggested to be merged into GNOME.

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