One of the best kept secrets at this week’s LinuxCon was the presence of Linus Torvalds. No matter who you asked, the answer was, “He’s not here.” And I’ve never seen Linus at any of the LinuxCons I’ve attended since 2009, whether in Europe or North America. But this morning, a little bird sang that the surprise guest for the upcoming keynote was none other than Torvalds.
Swapnil Bhartiya Mandatory selfie with Linus Torvalds.
It started with a Microsoft advertisement, and Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, joked as he took over the stage, "From now on that's how all our events will start." He then invited Linus to the stage and read a recent Businessweek article excerpt praising his work: "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."
And that is true: Software written by Linus today runs on more devices than the combined products of both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. His software powers everything around us in the modern world. It has indirectly created companies like Red Hat, SUSE and Canonical, and enabled companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon to run their massive operations. He has also made the open source development model a norm in today’s world. He really is one of the most influential people in the world today.
Jim also quoted from the article, “Torvalds has, in effect, been as instrumental in retooling the production lines of the modern economy as Henry Ford was 100 years earlier. It’s absurd that so much power has collected in one man."
Linus responded, "It does feel absurd. I am not sure about the power, but I love open source and how all that credit goes to me.” The humble Linus said, “Realistically, the only power I have is to say no. And sometimes I do that in a somewhat colorful manner. Because I don't write code anymore, I get a lot of kudos these days for just being a maintainer and manager of a lot of very productive people."
Jim engaged the audience with some more fun. He said, "Just to be clear that [Linus’] ego doesn't get too big with this kind of credit, the author does follow by saying, he is 5-feet-ho-hum tall with a paunch." Linus snapped back, "5’ 8’’ is just right."
Jim, nevertheless, read more from the article: "It's cheap and easy but true to say his body type gait resembles that of Tux, the penguin mascot." Linus, who drove from Portland to attend the event, responded, "Remind me why I came here today. Is it a roast?"
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