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.

-- linux.org

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 Titans":
We've seen dizzying innovation and creation in this century, from the automobile to the laser to the globalization of information, culture and commerce.

[...]

Who were the greatest builders and most influential business leaders?

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:
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.

-- Glyn Moody in Wired 5.08

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.

What you can do

What you must not do

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 doing this:

What else is out there?

Here's some links I consider invaluable in understanding why I'm so much a proponent of linux:

Special Thanks

I just wanted to name a couple of people who made this page possible:
Rob Napier <rnapier@employees.org>
Last modified: Wed Aug 11 10:59:46 EDT 1999