How Linus Torvalds Created Linux: A Brief History

How Linus Torvalds Created Linux: A Brief History

Linux is one of the most popular and influential operating systems in the world, powering millions of devices from smartphones to supercomputers. But who is behind this revolutionary software? The answer is Linus Torvalds, a Finnish-American software engineer who created Linux in 1991 as a personal project and later released it to the public under a free and open source license.

In this blog post, we will explore the life and achievements of Linus Torvalds, the creator and leader of Linux.

Who is Linus Torvalds?

Linus Torvalds was born on December 28, 1969, in Helsinki, Finland. He belongs to the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland and was named after Linus Pauling, a Nobel Prize-winning American chemist. His parents were journalists and campus radicals at the University of Helsinki in the 1960s.

Torvalds developed an interest in computers at an early age, when he got his first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, at the age of 11. He learned to program by reading books and magazines and tinkering with the machine. He later upgraded to a Sinclair QL, which he modified extensively.

Torvalds attended the University of Helsinki from 1988 to 1996, graduating with a master’s degree in computer science. His academic career was interrupted after his first year of study when he joined the Finnish Navy for his mandatory military service. He served as an artillery observer and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

During his university studies, Torvalds was exposed to Unix, a powerful and versatile operating system that was widely used in academia and industry. He also bought a book by Andrew Tanenbaum, a computer science professor who wrote an educational version of Unix called MINIX. Torvalds installed MINIX on his personal computer, an Intel 80386-based IBM PC clone, and started to experiment with it.

How did Torvalds create Linux?

Torvalds was not satisfied with MINIX, which he found too limited and restrictive for his needs. He wanted to have a Unix-like operating system that could run on his personal computer and that he could modify freely. He decided to write his own operating system kernel, the core component that manages the hardware resources and provides basic services for other programs.

Torvalds started working on his kernel in April 1991, using his PC as the development platform. He wrote most of the code in C, a high-level programming language that is portable and efficient, and some parts in assembly language, a low-level language that is specific to a certain processor architecture. He also used GNU tools, such as GCC (GNU Compiler Collection) and GNU Debugger, to compile and debug his code.

Torvalds initially intended his kernel to be a hobby project for his own use and learning. He did not have a clear vision or plan for its development. He simply added features and fixed bugs as he encountered them. He also borrowed ideas and code from other sources, such as MINIX, BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution), and POSIX (Portable Operating System Interface).

In August 1991, Torvalds announced his project on the Usenet newsgroup comp.os.minix, where he invited other interested programmers to join him. He wrote:

Hello everybody out there using minix –

I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix; as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-sytem due to practical reasons) among other things.

I’ve currently ported bash (1.08) an gcc (1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months; yes – I’m not in this for money :-) I’ve got enoug [sic] hacking around on minix; I want an operating system that I can REALLY put to good use.

This message marked the birth of Linux, although Torvalds did not use that name yet. He initially called his kernel “Freax”, a combination of “free”, “freak”, and “x” (as an homage to Unix). However, Ari Lemmke, a friend of Torvalds who administered
the FTP server where he uploaded his code, suggested him to use “Linux” instead. Torvalds agreed and released the first version of Linux (0.01) on September 17, 1991.

How did Linux evolve?

Linux quickly attracted attention and contributions from other programmers around the world. They helped Torvalds improve and expand his kernel by adding support for more hardware devices, file systems, network protocols, security features, etc. They also ported various applications and utilities from other operating systems to run on Linux.

One of the most important contributions came from Richard Stallman , the founder of the GNU project , which aimed to create a complete free operating system based on Unix principles. Stallman had started working on GNU in 1983 but had not finished developing its kernel , called GNU Hurd . He offered Torvalds to adopt Linux as part of GNU , under the condition that he would license it under the GNU General Public License (GPL) , which grants users the freedom to run , modify , and redistribute the software . Torvalds accepted Stallman’s offer and released Linux version 0.12 under GPL in January 1992 .

This marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between Linux and GNU , which resulted in what is commonly known as GNU/Linux or simply Linux . The combination of Linux kernel , GNU tools , and other free software formed a powerful , flexible , and customizable operating system that could run on various platforms , from personal computers to servers to embedded devices .

Linux also benefited from other open source projects , such as X Window System , which provided graphical user interface for Linux ; KDE and GNOME , which offered desktop environments for Linux ; Apache , which became the most popular web server software for Linux ; MySQL, PostgreSQL , MongoDB , etc., which provided database management systems for Linux ; Python, Perl, Ruby, etc., which offered scripting languages for Linux ; Firefox , Chrome , etc., which gave web browsers for Linux ; LibreOffice, GIMP, Blender , etc., which supplied office , graphics , and multimedia applications for Linux ; Steam , Wine , etc., which enabled gaming on Linux; Android, Chrome OS, etc., which used Linux as their base operating system; etc.

Today , Linux is one of the most widely used operating systems in the world . It runs on millions of devices , from smartphones to supercomputers . It powers most of the internet servers , cloud computing platforms , embedded systems, etc. It supports thousands of applications, from web development to scientific computing. It has a vibrant community of developers, users , supporters , advocates , etc . It has spawned hundreds of distributions or variants that cater to different needs and preferences . It has inspired many other open source projects that share its philosophy and values .

What is Torvalds’ role in Linux?

Torvalds remains the leader and coordinator of Linux development . He oversees the main branch or repository of Linux code . He reviews and approves patches or changes submitted by other developers . He releases new versions or updates of Linux periodically . He sets the direction and vision for Linux evolution . He resolves conflicts or disputes among developers . He maintains quality standards and performance benchmarks for Linux .

Torvalds also acts as a spokesperson and representative of Linux . He communicates with other stakeholders such as users , companies , organizations , media , etc . He promotes Linux adoption and awareness . He defends Linux interests and values . He participates in events or forums related to Linux.

Torvalds works full-time on Linux since 2003 . He is employed by The Linux Foundation , a non-profit organization that supports Linux development . He works from his home office in Dunthorpe ,
Oregon . He uses email as his main tool for communication . He prefers plain text over fancy graphics . He is known for his blunt and candid style of expression .

Torvalds has received many awards and honors for his work on Linux . Some of them are :

– IEEE Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award (2014)
– IEEE Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award (2018)
– Millennium Technology Prize (2012)
– EFF Pioneer Award (1998)
– Takeda Award (2001)
– Lovelace Medal (2000)
– Hall of Fellows Award (2008)

Torvalds has also written two books about his life and work :

– Just For Fun : The Story Of An Accidental Revolutionary (2001)
– Linus Torvalds : The Mind Behind Linux (2017)


Linus Torvalds is one of the most influential figures in computer science history . He created Linux as a personal project but turned it into a global phenomenon. He leads Linux development with passion and dedication . He embodies the spirit of open source software. He has changed the world with his code .

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