Interview with Linus Torvalds -- "On Being Linus" (page 4)

Interview with Linus Torvalds

Apr 9, 2001

NE: How about your family? Does your family like it here?

Linu: I have three daughters now. The oldest one was born in Finland. She was 10 weeks when we moved. She doesn't even realize the difference. My wife, it took her maybe half a year to adjust. But we're adjusted.

NE: Do you want to stay here forever?

Linus: Forever is a long time. [LAUGHTER] But the only thing I really don't like is that coming from Finland, there's a lot of space. Finland is not very densely populated mostly because nobody sane wants to live there. That's unfair. But it's a bit too cold. So the only thing that really disturbs me about this area is that it's too crowded. House prices are ridiculous and things like that. But at the same time, there's so many things that make me like this area despite all the power outages.

On Linux and Open Source

Q: When you working on Linux in Finland and you decided to make it an Open Source project, what were your expectations and reasoning at that time?

A: Looking back it looks like a huge decision and something I would have thought about a lot, but it wasn't. I was basically communicating a lot on the Internet with technical groups and people. Back then, in '91, '90, most Internet people were at universities which meant that the whole philosophy on the Internet was fairly university-minded. The best reason for making Linux available at that time was probably just because it fit the culture.

I didn't have very high expectations. I wanted people to give some feedback, but from a market share standpoint, I didn't expect it to make all that much of a difference. It was more that I know some technical people who would be interested in operating systems. And I wanted to get feedback from them.

Q: So now that 10 years have gone by, what were the things that were most surprising, that you never really expected to happen after you made it Open Source?

A: Very few things were really that surprising at the time. It's not that I expected this to happen because I didn't. But all the steps were fairly small. For example, just the fact that Oracle ported its database to Linux was a huge thing. That was something that suddenly made people realize that this thing actually can work in major commercial places. And yet the rumors about Oracle porting had been going around for two years. So it wasn't a huge surprise to me that it happened. Looking back, it's really surprising that everything worked so well, right? But none of the details were that strange.

Q: None of that was surprising. As it happened, you said, oh, this is natural?

A: Actually, the biggest surprises were probably fairly early on, in early '92 when I'd only released it maybe three, four months before. I released it expecting some of the people I'd already talked to to take a look. Then at some point, I just noticed that there were a lot of people actually using this and that the people using it were people I didn't even know. That was probably psychologically the biggest surprise. But at the same time, looking back it was maybe 50 or 100 people who were using it. Now that sounds really, really small. But at the time, it felt like a lot. Basically it's a big jump to go from one to 100. But then from 100 to 10 million, that's big numbers. [LAUGHTER]