EVERY LIST OF THE MOST FAMOUS FINNS in the world would be incomplete today without Linus Torvalds, the software developer who created Linux, the world’s largest open source operating system.
Linux is used in a wide variety of computing and mobile systems today. To name just a few things based on Torvald’s idea: NASA’s computers, Instagram, the Hadron Collider, the vast majority of supercomputers, and the US Department of Defense all run Linux. Even if you’ve never started the Linux kernel on your laptop, you have benefited from this open source software.
What few people know is that although Torvalds was born and raised in Helsinki, he actually belongs to Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, the Finland-Swedes. When the 30thNS Nearly the anniversary of the Linux release, we thought we would continue our on-going Finnish-Swedish cultural series by looking at the life and accomplishments of one of the most famous members of this community.
Although Torvalds now resides in the heart of Silicon Valley and has a fortune of around $ 150 million, his origins are somewhat more humble, if by no means of working class. He was born on December 28, 1969 to Finnish Swedish parents, including journalist and MP Nils Torvalds. His grandfathers were Leo Törnqvist, another famous Finnish Swede who was Finland’s first statistician ever, and Ole Torvalds, the famous poet and journalist. It was Törnqvist, his maternal grandfather, who first piqued Torvald’s interest in computers after asking him in 1981 to help program his brand new Commodore VIC-20 computer.
Linux first came together during his undergraduate studies in computer science at Helsinki University. Torvalds has his own Microsoft personal computer that had an operating system that was incompatible with the UNIX system used by the university. To fix this, he began developing a UNIX-like system that was compatible with personal computers. He first published the open source code on a computer forum in 1991, and it proved such a hit with the programming community that Linux as we know it was born shortly afterwards.
The completely free and open source nature of Linux meant that it quickly spread around the world. One industry that was particularly interested in the software was the defense sector, as it was much more convenient for security agencies to use code that they could see in full (as opposed to hidden code used by paid providers like Apple). Linux is also very popular in non-western countries because, due to its open source nature, it can be easily modified and adapted to local language requirements.
In 1997 Torvalds left Helsinki and moved to California, where he continues to work with the Open Source Development Lab, a consortium of major tech players such as Intel, Siemens and IBM who are committed to Linux development. His wife, who is almost 30 years old, is the six-time Finnish national karate champion Tove Torvalds, and both have been US citizens since 2010. However, Torvalds still returns to his homeland to give lectures, especially at his old alma mater, the University of Helsinki.
In 2004, the national broadcaster Yle rated him at 16NS in their list of the “100 Greatest Finns”, while Time Magazine also included it on their 2004 Time 100 ranking. He is an honorary doctor of Stockholm University and has named an asteroid, the 9793 Torvalds, after him.
Image source: Lehtikuva