to be an extraordinary one for computing. Perhaps
not a very enjoyable time for the richest man on the
The story of Linux is one of the great fables of computing
yet it begins as recently as 1991. That was when Linus
Torvalds, a 21-year-old student at Helsinki University,
decided to write his own computer operating system.
Only a nerd would try; most folk buy their computers
with the operating system already installed. And only
a master nerd would succeed. But Linux is not just
another operating system. It is the outcome of a completely
different philosophy, which has made its author into
such a cult figure. Torvalds did not copyright his
computer code so as to receive payment for his work.
Instead, he published it on the Internet and invited
other programmers to improve on it and to send their
results back to him. By e-mail, of course.
Linux therefore was and remains a free program. Anyone
can use it without charge, on condition that any improvements
they make are also uncopyrighted and freely available.
The nerds of the world took up Torvalds’ challenge.
Of Linux today, only about 2% was written by the master
himself, though he remains the ultimate authority
on what new code and innovations are incorporated