Transcript: Interview: Linus Torvalds | May 23, 2000

The studio features the host and her guest sitting at a big conference room with a red curtain at the back, a small stage, and a plant. The Host is a woman in her forties with short straight blond hair, with highlights. She wears a black jacket with matching pants, a blue blouse, and small rounded earrings.

The Guest is a man in his late thirties. He has short brown hair and is clean-shaven. He wears blue jeans, a white T-shirt with a logo to the left, glasses, and a watch.

The Host says I WAS SO SURPRISED
WHEN YOU
WALKED IN HERE AND YOU SAT
DOWN BECAUSE I GUESS,
WHAT WAS I EXPECTING?
THERE'S SUCH A
BUZZ AROUND YOU.
PEOPLE WHO LOVE COMPUTERS TALK
ABOUT YOU LIKE YOU'RE A GOD.
AND YOU TELL ME YOU'RE
JUST A NORMAL GUY?

The Guest says YEAH.
I FORGOT MY HALO AT HOME.
(laughs)

A slate on screen reads ‘Linus Torvalds. Linux inventor.’

The Guest continues NO, I'M A REGULAR GUY.
I JUST DID THE RIGHT THING
AND ENJOYED DOING THE RIGHT
THING, AND A LOT OF PEOPLE
ENDED UP LIKING...

The Host says WHAT YOU DID.

Linus says YEAH, AND ALSO
THE WAY I DID IT.
THE FACT THAT COMPUTERS HAVE
BEEN... ARE SEEN AS THIS HUGE
COMMERCIAL THING, AND COMPUTER
MANUFACTURERS ARE USUALLY
SEEN AS FAIRLY UNETHICAL OR
AMORAL, THEY JUST DON'T CARE.
AND LINUX WAS A BREATH OF
FRESH AIR, TO SOME DEGREE.

The Host says THE PROGRAM WE
KNOW AS
LINUX, WHEN DID IT EMERGE?

Linus says THAT EMERGED IN
BASICALLY '91.
AND I WAS AT UNIVERSITY.
AND I WANTED TO HAVE THE
SAME ENVIRONMENT AT HOME,
AS I HAD AT THE UNIVERSITY.
AND I COULDN'T GET IT.
AT THAT POINT, I HAD ALREADY
PROGRAMMED FOR HALF MY LIFE,
SO IT WAS KIND OF NATURAL, AND
IT HAD ALWAYS BEEN WHAT I DID
WHEN I PROGRAMMED, TO JUST,
IF THERE WAS SOMETHING I WAS
MISSING, I WOULD
JUST BUILD IT MYSELF.

The Host says SO HOW OLD WERE
YOU THEN?

Linus says I WAS 21.

The Host repeats 21.

Linus says UNDERGRAD AT
HELSINKI UNIVERSITY.

The Host says DID YOU HAVE A
SENSE THAT
YOU WERE DOING SOMETHING
QUITE EXTRAORDINARY?

Linus says IN THE SENSE THAT
LINUX IS TODAY, NO.
BUT I THOUGHT I WAS DOING
SOMETHING FUN AND SOMETHING
IMPORTANT FOR, KIND
OF, MY OWN SELF.
AND IT WAS ONE OF THESE, I'VE
ALWAYS HAD PROJECTS THAT
I WAS WORKING ON.
AND IT WAS JUST ANOTHER
PROJECT TO CREATE WHAT
I THOUGHT I NEEDED
ON MY COMPUTER.

The Host says THERE ARE SOME
PEOPLE WHO
SAY THE REASON, PERHAPS, YOU
WORKED ON THIS PROGRAM, YOU
DEVELOPED IT, WAS BECAUSE
YOU DIDN'T LIKE WINDOWS.
YOU DIDN'T LIKE EITHER
THE PROGRAM ITSELF,
OR JUST THE NATURE
OF THE COMPANY.

Linus says THAT'S NOT REALLY TRUE.
I KNEW THAT I DIDN'T
WANT TO HAVE WINDOWS.
THIS WAS '91, SO THIS
WAS WINDOWS 3.0 AND 3.1.
AND I'D BEEN USING
COMPUTERS FOR TEN YEARS.
AND I'D BEEN USING MORE
POWERFUL COMPUTERS THAN PCs.
I'D ALSO BEEN USING LESS
POWERFUL COMPUTERS.
I NEVER ACTUALLY
USED DOS VERY MUCH.
I'D COME INTO
CONTACT WITH IT.
AND I KNEW THAT THAT WASN'T
WHAT I WAS INTERESTED IN.
AND IT WASN'T A HATRED OF
MICROSOFT, IT WAS A CASE OF,
HEY, I CAN DO SOMETHING
BETTER FOR MY OWN USE.

The Host says LOTS OF PEOPLE
WONDER WHY,
AFTER YOU DEVELOPED LINUX,
YOU DIDN'T SET YOURSELF
UP, GO STRAIGHT TO IPO,
MULTIMILLION DOLLARS.
I'D HAVE A BILLIONAIRE
SITTING IN FRONT OF ME TODAY,
AND INSTEAD I HAVE A WHAT?

Linus says WELL, I'M WELL OFF.
I HAVEN'T BEEN INVOLVED
COMMERCIALLY IN LINUX,
BUT A LOT OF THESE LINUX
COMPANIES WANTED TO SHARE
THEIR APPRECIATION, SO I WAS
ACTUALLY ABLE TO BUY A HOUSE,
BASICALLY, ON
PROCEEDS FROM THAT.

The Host says IN CALIFORNIA?

Linus affirms IN CALIFORNIA.

The Host says THAT'S NOT SUCH AN
EASY THING TO DO.

Linus says THAT IS NOT TRIVIAL.
A YEAR AGO, I WAS DESPAIRING
ABOUT THAT POSSIBILITY.
SO I'M NOT HURTING.
AND AT THE TIME, I DIDN'T
KNOW WHAT IPO MEANT.
I'M COMING FROM A FAIRLY
DIFFERENT CULTURE, FINLAND.
AND I WAS COMING FROM A
UNIVERSITY BACKGROUND.
AND LET'S FACE IT, TEN YEARS
AGO, LINUX IS NOWHERE NEAR
WHERE IT IS TODAY.

The Host says BUT KNOWING WHAT YOU
KNOW TODAY, LOOKING BACK,
DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT
HAVE COMMERCIALIZED IT
IN SOME WAY TO HAVE MADE
SOME MONEY OFF OF IT?

Linus says NO.
PARTLY, KNOWING WHAT I KNOW
NOW IS THE FACT I MADE IT OPEN
SOURCE, IT MADE THE WHOLE
PROJECT REALLY POSSIBLE
IN THE FIRST PLACE.
I MEAN, THIS IS MUCH MORE
THAN THE TECHNOLOGY.
IT'S THE FACT THAT WE'VE HAD
A LOT OF PEOPLE WORKING
ON IT BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT.
THEY LOVE THE CHALLENGES.
THEY THINK IT'S REALLY
EXCITING TECHNOLOGY,
AND THEY THINK
IT'S IMPORTANT.
AND THAT WOULD NEVER HAVE
HAPPENED WITHOUT THE OPEN
SOURCE APPROACH.
AND ALSO, IT'S MORE THAN THE
FACT THAT IT COULDN'T HAVE BEEN
WITHOUT IT, IT'S ALSO THE FACT
IT TURNED OUT TO BE SO MUCH
MORE THAN JUST THE PRODUCT.
IT'S BEEN A WONDERFUL
JUST EXPERIENCE.
THE COMMUNITY'S A TON OF FUN.
IT'S MUCH NICER.
IT'S MUCH MORE HUMANE KIND OF
COMMUNITY THAN YOU'D FIND
CENTRED AROUND MOST
OTHER COMPUTER PROJECTS.

The Host says HOW DO YOU FEEL
ABOUT THAT, THOUGH?
I'VE GOT TWO THOUGHTS.
FIRST OF ALL, THERE ARE SOME
PEOPLE MAKING MONEY OFF OF
LINUX BECAUSE THEY'RE
BUILDING OFF OF IT.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT PEOPLE
TAKING YOUR IDEA, WHICH
BASICALLY YOU GAVE TO
THE WORLD FOR FREE,
AND BENEFITING FINANCIALLY?

Linus says ORIGINALLY,
AND THIS WAS BACK
IN '92 WHEN PEOPLE STARTED
DOING THIS ON A REALLY,
REALLY SMALL SCALE BY TODAY'S
STANDARDS, I WAS A BIT
NERVOUS ABOUT THAT.
AND THE THING THAT CHANGED
MY MIND WAS THE FACT THAT ALL
THE COMMERCIAL VENTURES, THE
EARLY ONES, AND THE ONES
STILL ONGOING, HAVE ALL ENDED
UP IMPROVING THE SYSTEM.

The Host says WHAT ABOUT
OTHER COMPUTER
COMPANIES, OTHER COMPANIES THAT
ARE MAKING LOTS AND LOTS OF
MONEY OFF OF THEIR DISCOVERIES?
I MEAN, YOU ARE LIKE THE
ROBIN HOOD OF COMPUTERS.
YOU HAVE SAID, HERE'S
SOMETHING, LET'S SHARE IT.
DO YOU THINK MORE COMPANIES
SHOULD BE DOING THAT?

Linus says I THINK MORE COMPANIES
WILL BE DOING THAT.
IT'S... I MEAN, TO A LARGE
DEGREE, COMPUTER COMPANIES
HAVE BEEN LIVING IN A KIND
OF WILD WEST, WHERE YOU ARE
EXPLORING NEW AREAS, AND IT'S
BEEN VERY OPPORTUNISTIC.
AND IT HASN'T QUITE
CALMED DOWN YET.
NOT BY A LONG SHOT.
BUT I THINK PEOPLE ARE KIND OF
SEEING THAT IT'S GROWN UP TO
SOME DEGREE, AND IT'S
STARTING TO, PEOPLE KNOW WHAT
THE RULES ARE, WHAT THE
HISTORY IS, HOW THINGS WORK.
I THINK THAT PROGRAMMING IS A
WONDERFUL VOCATION TO HAVE.
AND PART OF IT IS BECAUSE
PEOPLE DO PAY YOU FOR IT,
BUT IT'S STILL ART.
IT'S BOTH A MELD OF
ART AND SCIENCE.
IT'S KIND OF LIKE
ARCHITECTURE.
AND IT'S ONE OF THE FEW AREAS
TODAY IN TECHNOLOGY WHERE
INDIVIDUALS CAN REALLY MAKE A
BIG DIFFERENCE JUST BECAUSE
IT IS SO MUCH ART THAT
IT'S NOT AUTOMATED.
AND I DON'T THINK A BIG
COMPANY IS ALL THAT MUCH
BETTER AT DOING ART
THAN A SMALL COMPANY.

The Host says DO YOU THINK YOU'RE
REALLY, REALLY SMART?
IF SOMEONE WERE TO SAY YOU
ARE A COMPUTER GENIUS,
HOW WOULD YOU
FEEL ABOUT THAT?

Linus says UM... I'M REALLY
GOOD AT WHAT I DO.
PART OF WHAT I DO IS, LET'S FACE
IT, IT'S NOT JUST PROGRAMMING.
WHAT'S MADE LINUX SO GOOD IS
I'M A FAIR ENOUGH PROGRAMMER.
I THINK I'M A GOOD ONE, BUT
I'VE BEEN ABLE ALSO TO BE A
COMMUNICATION'S PERSON.
WHICH IS FAIRLY
RARE IN PROGRAMMERS.
THEY ARE KNOWN FOR
BEING COMPLETE GEEKS.

The Host says I DIDN'T SAY THAT.

Linus smiles and continues YOU DIDN'T
SAY THAT.
THAT'S OKAY.
AND I'VE BEEN DOING ALSO KIND OF
BEING ABLE TO WORK WITH OTHERS.
AND I DON'T THINK THAT IS
GENIUS, I THINK THAT IS,
IT TAKES A CERTAIN PERSONALITY.

The Host says I WONDER IF WE
COULD GET YOUR
ADVICE ON SOMETHING BECAUSE
COMPUTERS HAVE GIVEN THE WORLD
SO MUCH, THE CAPACITY TO
COMMUNICATE, BUT THEY'VE
ALSO SEEMED TO DELIVER THE
CAPACITY TO SNOOP AND TO
INTERFERE, AND SECURITY IS
SUCH A BIG DEAL NOW.
WHAT'S YOUR ADVICE FOR MAKING
THE INTERNET AND COMPUTER
SYSTEMS MORE SECURE?

Linus says WHENEVER YOU
DESIGN A NEW
TECHNOLOGY, YOU HAVE TO DESIGN
THE SAFETY MEASURES FOR THAT.
WHEN YOU CREATE A CAR, IT HAS
TO HAVE SIDE RAILS TO MAKE
SURE THAT WHEN YOU GET INTO
A CRASH, YOU'RE PROTECTED.
AND THE SAME IS
TRUE FOR COMPUTERS.
AND PEOPLE ARE WORRIED ABOUT
THIS RIGHT NOW BECAUSE
COMPUTERS IS THE NEW
TECHNOLOGY WHERE THE
INFRASTRUCTURE FOR ALL OF THIS
ISN'T YET TAKEN FOR GRANTED,
AND IT'S NOT ALWAYS THERE.
THE SAME WAY 40 YEARS AGO CARS
DID NOT HAVE ALL THESE SAFETY
FEATURES THEY HAVE TODAY.

The Host says SO DO YOU BELIEVE,
AND I WOULD
REALLY TRUST YOUR ANSWER ON
THIS, DO YOU BELIEVE THAT WE
HAVE THE ABILITY TO DESIGN
SECURITY MEASURES IN THE
FUTURE THAT WILL BE SUFFICIENT
TO PROTECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY?

Linus says I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT WE
WILL HAVE THE CAPABILITY
TO HAVE SECURE SYSTEMS.
THEY WILL NEVER BE 100 PERCENT
SECURE, THE SAME WAY YOU WILL
STILL DIE IN CAR CRASHES.

The Host says SOMEBODY MIGHT STILL
OPEN YOUR PAPER LETTERS.

Linus says RIGHT.
IT'S NOT A QUESTION OF
GETTING 100 PERCENT SECURITY.
BUT I THINK COMPUTERS ACTUALLY
HAVE THE POTENTIAL OF MAKING
A LOT OF THINGS
MUCH MORE PRIVATE.

The Host says WHAT'S YOUR REACTION
WHEN YOU
HEAR ABOUT, WE DON'T REALLY
KNOW WHO HAS DONE IT YET, BUT
PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO CREATE
VIRUSES THAT DESTROY PARTS
OF PEOPLE'S COMPUTERS?
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?

Linus says I THINK THAT THE WHOLE
DISCUSSION ABOUT THE
PHILIPPINE BOY, OR
WHOEVER IT WAS --

The Host says THE LOVE BUG.
WE'RE NOT SURE.

Linus continues THE LOVE BUG.
THAT HAS BEEN SO ONE-SIDED
TRYING TO BLAME THIS PERSON
WHO ABSOLUTELY DID NOT DO
THE THING HE DID ON PURPOSE.
HE MAY HAVE WANTED TO
DO A VIRUS ON PURPOSE,
BUT HE DID NOT REALIZE WHAT
IT WOULD ACTUALLY CAUSE.
I MEAN, WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A
SINGLE INDIVIDUAL, PROBABLY A
TEENAGER, WHO JUST DID NOT
REALIZE THE RAMIFICATION
OF HIS DEED.

The Host says THE SAME WAY WHEN
YOU WERE
CREATING LINUX YOU PROBABLY
DIDN'T REALIZE --

Linus continues KIND OF, YEAH, EXACTLY.
AND AT THE SAME TIME,
EVERYBODY HAS IGNORED THE REAL
ISSUE, WHICH IS THE SYSTEM
SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN THAT
VULNERABLE IN THE FIRST PLACE.
IT'S NOT A GOOD EXCUSE TO
POINT THE FINGERS AT SOMEBODY.
THAT'S JUST A
SCAPEGOAT APPROACH.
AND IT'S TRUE, YES, THIS
PERSON STARTED IT ALL.
AND HE SHOULD PROBABLY GET SOME
FINES, JAIL TIME OR SOMETHING.
HE CAN NEVER REPAY THE 11
BILLION DOLLARS OR WHATEVER SOME
STUPID PERSON ESTIMATED
THIS DAMAGE TO BE.
AND IT WOULD BE SILLY AND
LUDICROUS TO EVEN SUGGEST THAT
HE SHOULD BE
HELD ACCOUNTABLE.
WHICH IS ACTUALLY WHAT I'VE
SEEN MOST OF THE PRESS DO.
THAT IT'S HIS FAULT.
IT'S NOT HIS FAULT.
IT'S THE FACT THAT THE
INFRASTRUCTURE FELL DOWN.
AND THIS IS NOT HOW COMPUTER
NETWORKS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE.
AND IT SHOULD NOT BE
SURPRISING THAT THIS ACTUALLY
HIT MICROSOFT COMPUTERS THE
WORST BECAUSE THEY ARE A
COMPANY NOT WELL
KNOWN FOR SECURITY.

The Host says LINUS,
YOU HAVE A FAMILY?

Linus says I HAVE A FAMILY.

The Host says GOT A WIFE?

Linus says I HAVE A LIFE.
I HAVE A WIFE.
I HAVE TWO SMALL KIDS.

The Host asks HOW OLD ARE
YOUR CHILDREN?

Linus responds THREE AND A HALF
AND TWO YEARS OLD.

The Host says ARE THEY ON THE
COMPUTER YET?

Linus says NO, THEY ARE NOT ON
THE COMPUTER YET.

The Host says WHAT ARE YOU GOING
TO DO, WHAT
WILL YOU DO, WHEN WILL YOU
LET THEM BEGIN TO HAVE
ACCESS TO THE COMPUTER AND
UNDERSTAND WHAT
IS GOING ON THERE?

Linus says ANY TIME THEY REALLY
THINK THEY WANT TO.
RIGHT NOW, THEY'RE HAPPY SITTING
BY WHEN I'M AT THE COMPUTER.
ONE OF THEM OFTEN COMES UP AND
TYPES ON THE KEYBOARD BESIDE,
WHICH IS NOT ACTUALLY
CONNECTED TO ANYTHING.
AND THAT'S ALL THEY
REALIZE ABOUT COMPUTERS.
I DON'T THINK YOU HAVE TO
LEARN COMPUTERS WHEN YOU'RE
THREE YEARS OLD.
I WAS QUITE FULL INTO
COMPUTERS WHEN I LEARNED THEM
WHEN I WAS 11.
THEY WILL PROBABLY BE DAILY
CONTACT WITH COMPUTERS BY THE
TIME THEY ARE SEVEN, EIGHT.
AND I THINK I'LL KNOW WHEN
THEY REALLY WANT ONE.

The Host says YOU TELL ME YOU'RE
A NORMAL GUY.
JUST BOUGHT A HOUSE.
WIFE AND KIDS.
NOT A GENIUS.
BUT YOU KNOW, YOU ARE IN
TORONTO AT A LINUX CONFERENCE
WHERE PEOPLE ARE LINING UP TO
COME AND SEE YOU BECAUSE THEY
THINK YOU REALLY ARE GOD'S
GIFT TO THE COMPUTER WORLD.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?

Linus says IT'S ACTUALLY...
IT'S MOSTLY FUN.
FACE IT, EVERYBODY WANTS
TO DO SOMETHING MEANINGFUL.
EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE
SUPERMAN IN THEIR SMALL WAY.
I THINK, AT LEAST.
I KNOW I WANTED TO BE A FAMOUS
SCIENTIST IN MY TEENAGE YEARS.
AND IT'S NOT REALLY INTRUSIVE
BECAUSE IT ONLY HAPPENS
WHEN I GO TO CONFERENCES.
WHEN I LIVE AT HOME,
I'M JUST A REGULAR GUY
WHO JUST HAPPENS TO
WORK WITH COMPUTERS.

The Host concludes LINUS TORVALDS,
THANK YOU SO
MUCH FOR TALKING WITH US.

Linus smiles and says THANKS.

Watch: Interview: Linus Torvalds