ANY LIST OF THE MOST FAMOUS FINNISHES in the world today would be incomplete without the inclusion of Linus Torvalds, the software developer who created Linux, the world’s largest open source operating system.
Linux is used today in a wide variety of computer and mobile systems. To list a few things that are based on Torvalds’ original idea, the computers of NASA, Instagram, the Hadron Collider, the vast majority of supercomputers, and the US Department of Defense are all powered by Linux. Even if you have never started Linux Kernel on your laptop, you have benefited from this open source software.
What not many people know is that although Torvalds was born and raised in Helsinki, he is actually part of the Swedish minority in Finland, the Swedes in Finland. Like the 30e Linux’s release anniversary is fast approaching, we thought we would continue our ongoing series on Finnish-Swedish culture by examining the life and achievements of one of this community’s most famous members.
Although Torvalds now resides in the heart of Silicon Valley and has a net worth of around $ 150 million, his origins are a bit more humble, albeit far removed from the working class. He was born on December 28, 1969 to Swedish Finnish parents, including journalist and MP Nils Torvalds. His grandfathers were Leo Törnqvist, another famous Finnish Swede who was the very first Finnish statistician, and Ole Torvalds, the famous poet and journalist. It was Törnqvist, his maternal grandfather, who first sparked Torvalds’ interest in computing, after asking him to help him program his brand new Commodore VIC-20 computer in 1981.
It was during his undergraduate studies in computer science at the University of Helsinki that Linux first saw the light of day. Torvalds has his own personal Microsoft computer, which had an operating system that was not compatible with the system used by the University, UNIX. To remedy this, he began to develop a UNIX-like system that would be compatible with personal computers. He first posted the open-source code to a computer forum in 1991, and it turned out to be such a hit with the developer community that Linux as we know it was born soon after.
The completely free and open source nature of Linux has made it quickly spread around the world. One industry that was particularly interested in software was the defense sector, as security agencies were much more comfortable with code than they could see in its entirety (unlike the hidden code used by paid providers like Apple). Linux is also extremely popular in non-Western countries because its open source nature makes it easy to modify and adapt to local language requirements.
In 1997, Torvalds left Helsinki and decamped 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 champion Linux development. His wife of nearly 30 years is six-time Finnish national karate champion Tove Torvalds, and both have been US citizens since 2010. However, Torvalds still returns to his homeland to lecture, especially at his former alma mater, the ‘University of Helsinki. .
In 2004, national broadcaster Yle ranked it 16e in their list of ‘100 Greatest Finns’, while Time Magazine also included it in their 2004 Time 100 ranking. He holds an honorary doctorate from Stockholm University and owns an asteroid, the 9793 Torvalds , who carries his name.
Image Credit: Lehtikuva