Linus Torvalds released the Linux operating system from his college dorm room in Finland in 1991. Since then, the software has taken over the world. While Linux is open-source, which allows people to change it as they please, Torvalds remains its lone official arbiter, guiding how Linux evolves. When it comes to Athe software that runs just about everything, Torvalds is The Decider.What’s more, Torvalds may be the most influential individual economic force of the past 20 years. He didn’t invent open-source software, but through Linux he unleashed the full power of the idea. Torvalds has proven that open-source software can be quicker to build, better, and more popular than proprietary products. The result of all this is that open-source software has overtaken proprietary code as the standard for new products and that the price of software overall has plummeted.In the early days of Linux, proprietary software giants like IBM and Microsoft scoffed at the idea of this man and his hobbyist code accomplishing much at all. As Linux’s popularity soared, their tune changed. IBM and others embraced Linux. Microsoft likened it to cancer and portrayed open-source software as an affront to capitalism. Torvalds was then made out to be the socialist software activist from Finland threatening the huge profits of the software industry earned honestly in USA.Torvalds’s attitude and direct language have left him isolated. The proprietary software clan does not care for him, and neither do parts of the open-source clan. Torvalds also has a tendency to be nasty to the followers he does have, peppering Linux forums with foul language and reprimands. “SHUT THE F— UP!” he wrote to a Linux developer in 2013. “Fix your f—ing ‘compliance tool’, because it is obviously broken. And fix your approach to kernel programming.””Everyone is much better off knowing how I feel about things,” Torvalds says. “I don’t actually tell people what to do. I tell them what not to do. When people don’t take responsibility for their bugs, then I make it clear that is not acceptable. I use colorful language. I am not sorry for doing that. I am sorry people take my colorful language out of a bigger context.”It’s weird that a person who can come off as a real grouch has managed to be such a supremely effective dictator. Linux was once 10,000 lines of code and required part-time tending. It’s now 19 million lines of code, and changing it involves a complex hierarchy of people. In an average year, more than 3,000 people will offer at least one change for the heart of Linux, known as the kernel. The change could be as simple, or something more complex, like code for a specialized supercomputing operation. There are around 700 “maintainers”, who first gather and peruse those changes and move them on to 130 “subsystem maintainers”, who discuss the software on mailing lists. Greg Kroah-Hartman, who’s Torvalds’s right-hand man, can receive upwards of 1,000 e-mails a day from Linux developers debating the merits of the various tweaks. After all this discussion is done, and the code is tested and perfected, Torvalds is finally notified that someone would like to make a change to Linux.
Bring up his influence on the world economy, and Torvalds, after nudging, will open up about what open-source means to the world. “The software industry is a much healthier place. For software that everyone ends up wanting, open-source is a good option. Software is infrastructure.”