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Leader of the Free World

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Linux

Linus Torvalds wants me to believe he's too boring for this story. The creator of the Linux operating system portrays himself as a mild-mannered soul leading a humdrum life, just another guy lucky enough to own a McMansion in the hills above San Jose courtesy of the money-mad late '90s. Before agreeing to meet me, Torvalds sent an email imagining that I'd be overwhelmed by the tedium of hanging around with the likes of him.

"Six shots of coffee and I was expecting Linus to really spring into action," he wrote, pretending to be me. "Where would he go next? Fighting evil software hoarders? But no. He got into his car (dammit, if I had a car like that I wouldn't act so sluglike) and drove sedately back home I closed my eyes and dreamt of more exciting assignments."

On one level, Torvalds' life really is filled with quotidian routine. He works from home as a fellow for the Open Source Development Lab, a corporate-funded consortium created to foster improvements to Linux. His commute is a walk down a flight of stairs to an office he shares with Tove, his wife of nine years. It's jammed with Linux-related books, few of which he's read, and looks out onto the narrow walkway between his home and the neighbor's. The early July day he invites me to visit is his first official one as an OSDL employee, but it isn't long after my arrival that he excuses himself to take out the garbage because Tove nags him about the smell. Later, he takes a break to feed a lunch of milk splashed over Cheerios to his three daughters, all younger than 8, while Tove runs errands.

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