Linus honoured

Linux creator Torvalds shares Millennium Technology Prize

Chris Mayer

The man behind the Linux kernel and Git revision control system has been awarded a top honour by the Technology Academy in Finland. Typically he gets a big homecoming.

The man behind the Linux Kernel, Linus Torvalds collected the tech equivalent of the Nobel Prize yesterday, scooping 600,000 and the Millennium Technology Prize 2012 for his work towards the open source operating system.

The prize which is awarded every two years, was for the first time in its history given to two recipients – the other being Japanese stem call scientist Shinya Yamanaka. Both were made laureates for the award back in April, so it comes as no surprise to see them both recognised with the illustrious honour. Fittingly for Torvalds, the glitzy ceremony took place in the town where he was born, Helsinki in Finland, making a return home from Oregon in the US for the accolade.

“The International Selection Committee has to judge whether an innovation has had a favourable impact on people’s lives and assess its potential for further development to benefit humanity in the future. The innovations of both this year’s winners embody that principle,” Dr Ainomaija Haarla, President of Technology Academy Finland said in a statement.

Torvalds, specifically was honoured by the Technology Academy Finland “in recognition of his creation of a new open source operating system for computers leading to the widely used Linux kernel.”

Speaking at the ceremony, Torvalds thanked “all the people I’ve worked with, who have helped make the project not only such a technical success, but have made it so fun and interesting.”

It’s remarkable to chart the progress of the Linux operating system – started in 1991 by Torvalds whilst in university as “just a hobby” that “won’t be big and professional” (or so he wrote on Usenet about the project), Linux now sets the computing benchmark for how large collaborative open source projects should be carried out. The initial kernel code base consisted of 10,000 lines of code – it now stands at 15 million, with an estimated combined 73,000 man-years spent working on Linux. A phenomenal amount, that cements Torvalds legacy as Linux field marshal.

Previous winners of the Millennium Technology Prize include blue and white LED inventor Shuji Nakamura in 2006 and the World Wide Web and creator, Tim Berners-Lee in 2004. 

Speaking to the BBC, Torvalds said he had no intention of stepping away from the Linux Foundation, despite revealing in the past lucrative job offers (from Steve Jobs no less).

He said: 

Hey, I’ve had job offers, but I’ve really tried to make it very clear to everybody that what I appreciate most is my neutral status, and it really turns out that I think all the companies involved with Linux really do prefer things that way too.

I seriously believe that even though the Linux kernel has become a big thing for a number of large companies, people really do appreciate how nice it is that I don’t work for any of them.

Typical Torvalds straight-talk, but it’s a fantastic personal achievement for him in a long list of accolades. Especially considering how phenomenally successful a test project has become – it’s revolutionised the tech world and helped set the agenda for open source as part of software. He hasn’t become jaded either, still actively coding from his Oregon home. Now we’re just awaiting the proper recognition for Git. Congratulations Linus!

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