News of the College NovemberNovember2005

Vollum Award honors Linux creator

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The 2005 Vollum Award for Distinguished Accomplishment in Science and Technology was presented to Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux open-source computer operating system, at Reed’s convocation ceremony in August.

“While a student at the University of Helsinki, he sought a reliable operating system with technological sophistication, yet more affordable than other operating systems for mainframes and computer workstations and dedicated himself to writing an original operating system for his four-megabyte personal computer,” noted Peter Steinberger, dean of the faculty at Reed, in the award citation.

Steinberger quoted Torvalds’ description of himself in a Time magazine article: “‘Forget about dating! Forget about hobbies! Forget about life! We are talking about a guy who sat, ate, and slept in front of the computer.’”

Torvalds created the Linux kernel — part of the operating system that manages memory — in 1991. In 1992 he registered Linux with the Free Software Foundation, meaning that any modifications made to the source code (the set of instructions used to create it) would have to be made publicly available. Torvalds posted the source code so that other programmers could experiment on their own, making modifications at will. Linux can be downloaded from the Internet for free.

In 1997, Torvalds moved to the United States, and in 2000 he joined the Open Source Development Lab in Beaverton as a fellow. OSDL provides state-of-the-art computing and test facilities for open-source developers in the United States and Japan. Founding members are IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Computer Associates, Intel, and NEC.

Each year since 1975, Reed’s president and trustees, acting on the recommendation of the division of mathematics and natural sciences, have selected a Vollum Award recipient from the Pacific Northwest who demonstrates the perseverance, fresh approach to problems and solutions, and imagination that characterized the career of the late Reed physics alumnus Howard Vollum ’36, one of the nation’s great innovators and technologists, long-time trustee, and lifelong friend of Reed.