Computers might be the most creative invention in human history. Computers talking to each other (internet) is the second greatest invention. When computer codes developed, many mundane tasks started to be automated, helping our productivity to increase dramatically. When computer codes developed, many pioneers like Bill Gates (Microsoft) and other companies built the infrastructure for operating systems. These systems, a collection of millions of code commands, were guarded as trade secrets. No computer company shared or was willing to share their knowledge with each other, let alone with anyone. In the early nineties and with great vision, Linus Torvalds changed this forever. He disagreed with all of the computer world and decided to build an open source operating system. Torvalds refused to patent the code and made the LINUX operating system publicly available to everyone. I don’t know if Torvalds was aware in the early days that he had done something revolutionary. He changed the landscape of operating systems and advanced computer technology to be accessible to the masses. This resulted in a massive explosion of creativity and innovation all around the world. To understand Torvalds, we need to understand his background.
Linus Torvalds described himself one time as ” good at math, good at physics, and with no social graces whatsoever, and this was before being a nerd was considered a good thing” .Torvalds was born in Finland from a communist father and a radical student mother who worked as a print journalist . Torvalds used to program in BASIC when he impressed his little sister by programming the computer to say “Sara is the best.” Torvalds, not impressed with MS-DOS, decided to use UNIX which he could get from the university mainframe computers. Stunned to learn that he needed to pay $5,000, he decided to build his own operating system. He magically pioneered in making open system codes for operating systems available to everyone, including my son, who built his first server in my house when he was 13, using Apache LINUX server. Torvalds published 2,000 lines of code. It is estimated that it would have cost somewhere around 8 billion dollars to develop by conventional means (Amor et al. 2009). As a result of Torvalds’ work, many operating systems currently use LINUX, including tablets, Android, Kindle, Nook, Google, computer games, and security servers. All of these technologies use LINUX codes with customized platform codes. Although open system software is not the best system, compared to Apple and Microsoft, it is free, and nobody can beat free because nobody wants to start from scratch to build codes for new operating systems, although some have tried but at a high cost.
Torvalds pushed for an open source system from day one. Steve Wozniak encouraged Steve Jobs to make Mac open in the early days. He disagreed fundamentally with Jobs creating special tools to open Mac from the back. In fact, this aspect of Jobs’ personality is currently the center of the new movie Steve Jobs played by Michael Fassbender. The movie, unfortunately, focused on the bad side of Jobs without giving a lot of detail on the dynamic building of the Mac computer. Half of the movie shows how Jobs was fired by the Mac board who was supporting Scott Sculley for CEO. Sculley had been hand-picked by Jobs. My wife, son, and his girlfriend did not like the movie. I thought it was OK!
Unlike Torvalds, Jobs marched on creating every single part of the Mac including customizing UNIX to build the Mac operating system. Jobs even disagreed with Bill Gates on separating software from hardware. Jobs insisted that hardware and software should be integrated. With all this control, Jobs was a great innovator.
The point of this post is to state that we need both schools of thinking: Torvalds and Jobs to achieve and advance science. The trick is to know when to make things public domain (Torvalds) and when to patent them to encourage creativity and collaboration (Jobs).
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