Linus Torvalds: Builder of the Century
This is a prank, right?
No, this is a grassroots movement. There is nothing more grassroots
than linux. I hope to show in this
text why the coordination of linux ranks Linus as the greatest
innovator of the 20th century. If you already know all this, you can
jump to what you can do.
Who is Linus
In brief, Linus Torvalds is the coordinator of the linux development
project. This project has thousands of volunteer developers involved,
and the final product, perhaps one of the most advanced operating
systems currently available, is free. The current number of linux
users is a subject of debate, but it is undoubtedly in the millions
(5-7 million is a fairly well reasoned estimate).
Linux is an operating system that was initially created as a hobby by
a young student, Linus Torvalds, at the University of Helsinki in
Finland. Linus had an interest in Minix, a small UNIX system, and
decided to develop a system that exceeded the Minix standards. He
began his work in 1991 when he released version 0.02 and worked
steadily until 1994 when version 1.0 of the Linux Kernel was released.
The current full-featured version is 2.0, and development continues
with several updates that are available for public use.
What's all this about?
Time Magazine is looking
for the Person of the Century in various fields. One of those fields
is "Builders and
We've seen dizzying innovation and creation in this century, from the
automobile to the laser to the globalization of information, culture
While Linus is no powerful businessman, he has built one of the
largest development organizations in the world devoted to a single
product. Already, the people involved in this project number in the
thousands. That is quite an organization for a single person to
manage, even without considering the fact that they are not paid.
They are not paid. Moreover, linux is perhaps the most advanced
operating system in the world:
Who were the greatest builders and most influential business leaders?
The latest version of Linux - release 2.0 - offers 64-bit processing
(NT and many Unixes are only 32-bit); symmetric multiprocessing, which
allows the simultaneous deployment of several chips in a system; and
networking more advanced than that of any other operating system.
Moody in Wired
Linus has shown himself to be perhaps the greatest manager that has
ever lived, without making himself a wealthy man in the process. When
else in history has one man lead so many, received so little, and
created so much, all for the sake of a product. I emphasize
that this is for the sake of a product. While there are many
who feel that linux is more than that, at its core, it's just a
program. Software developers are commonly paid $45-$60k a year and
more for their skills, yet they work for Linus for free, generally in
addition to their paying jobs. This is not to say that no one makes
money on Linux. Over 30 companies are listed on the linux.org vendors list. These
companies generally sell support, education, and convenience. Linus
has created an organization that most software development companies
have told us is impossible. For the "Builder of the Century," I look
to a man who has done impossible things.
For more background, I encourage you to read the articles at www.linux.org/news.
- Vote in the Time Magazine
poll. I recommend the "Builders and Titans" category.
- Tell others about this effort. Truth is a virus. Get contagious.
- Read the articles at www.linux.org/news.
- Try out linux for yourself.
- Become part of one of the linux related projects.
- Become better educated about free software in general by reading
some of the links below.
me know you voted. The addresses of people who mail
me will be kept confidential, but will allow me to gage a
minimum of how many people voted, in case someone
accuses us of writing robots (see below).
- Send me your comments about this page. If I have a fact wrong,
or have left out something important, please let me know.
What you must not do
- Do not write voting robots. I know you can.
So can I. But if we skew the polls, this will all be for
nothing, because they'll probably throw out the votes.
- Do not spam anyone. Only forward this information to people you
know or to newsgroups that are likely to be directly
interested (and have not already had this information posted). I
have already posted this information to the mutt-users mailing
list, and even that was probably questionable. If I have to
explain why this is an absolute rule, please check out abuse.net.
- Do not do nothing. The most important thing in life is to do
something important. If you don't believe this is
important, that's fine. But do something. If you believe
in linux, support it. If not this way, find another.
Why am I doing this?
This idea came to me from James
Blackwell, who had it posted to freshmeat.net. I picked it up because
I wanted to do something for linux, and because I hoped that Linus
Torvalds' contribution will someday be recognized as a pivotal event
in the new Information Age. So I am voting for Linus because I think
his contribution in this century will have a huge impact in the
next century. And even if the idea of free software finally
fails, at least I know we tried.
Just as importantly, here are some reasons that aren't why I'm
Here's some links I consider invaluable in understanding why I'm so
much a proponent of linux:
- I'm not doing this to "get" Bill Gates. I use
Windows 95 everyday, mostly as an X-terminal to get to a Sparc,
but it makes a good X-terminal nonetheless. Linux is also still
lacking the sheer number of games that Windows has, so I need at
least one Win95 machine around so that my wife and I can play
King's Quest. Bill Gates brought the computer to the masses, and
you have to respect that. But I believe that someone else
(probably Steve Jobs) would have done it if he hadn't. I don't
believe anyone has ever done what Linus has done. Even Richard
Stallman (see below) has not been able to
fully realize his vision of free software in the way that Linus
has. I have nothing but respect for Richard Stallman's
contributions to the free software movement and consider him
the real pioneer in the field, but I believe that it is Linus
who has turned that dream into the beginning of a reality by
bringing it to the next level.
- I'm not doing this under the delusion that Linus Torvalds will
actually win. My greatest hope is that Time Magazine will notice
his name enough to dig a little deeper, and I dream that they
would do a cover story on him and linux.
- I'm not doing this because linux is the perfect operating
system. This actually has very little to do with linux itself,
and much more to do with how linux was created. Linux has some
major problems, particuarly in ease of configuration, and lack
of software in some key areas like games. On purely technical
merit, there may be superior operating systems
(perhaps BeOS for example). But
Linus has created a development system, far more
important than the operating system. Turn around times for new
features and bug fixes are incredibly fast. Inter-developer
communication is incredibly high. And all without direct
financial incentive. What software development company can claim
- I'm not doing this as a prank.
I just wanted to name a couple of people who made this page possible:
- James Blackwell, who
got me invovled in this.
- My wife, who proofread these pages as a non-nerd.
Last modified: Wed Aug 11 10:59:46 EDT 1999