Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Linux Inc.

Linus Torvalds once led a ragtag band of software geeks. Not anymore. Here's an inside look at how the unusual Linux business model increasingly threatens Microsoft

Five years ago, Linus Torvalds faced a mutiny. The reclusive Finn had taken the lead in creating the Linux computer operating system, with help from thousands of volunteer programmers, and the open-source software had become wildly popular for running Web sites during the dot-com boom. But just as Linux was taking off, some programmers rebelled. Torvalds' insistence on manually reviewing everything that went into the software was creating a logjam, they warned. Unless he changed his ways, they might concoct a rival software package -- a threat that could have crippled Linux. "Everybody knew things were falling apart," recalls Larry McVoy, a programmer who played peacemaker. "Something had to be done."

The crisis came to a head during a tense meeting at McVoy's house, on San Francisco's Twin Peaks. A handful of Linux' top contributors took turns urging Torvalds to change. After an awkward dinner of quiche and croissants, they sat on the living room floor and hashed things out. Four hours later, Torvalds relented. He agreed to delegate more and use a software program for automating the handling of code. When the program was ready in 2002, Torvalds was able to process contributions five times as fast as he had in the past.