I am writing this from the back of my head and the incident took place more than two decades ago. I didn’t make note of it at the time, as Linus or Linux were not a big thing yet. It took more than a decade for me to realize that I have actually had a brief conversation with one of the biggest influencers ever in the field of IT. Details may be inaccurate and Linus probably does not remember a damn thing about this.
The day I called Linus Torvalds
When I was a kid I had a summer job at one CNC workshop, cutting metal, wood, plastics and all sorts of materials into shape based on CAD-drawings. This was around 1993 - 1994. The workshop partly shared an office and canteen premises with an engineering company, where real brainiacs worked on all kinds of automation projects. For a young and promising tech geek like me, the coffee table talks with those engineers were the most interesting part of the job.
We often discussed personal computers and IT and one of the guys introduced me to a new operating system that he beleived to be superior over MS-DOS: Linux. Couple of days later he brought me a thick stack of floppies so that I could try it myself, on my dad’s computer of course…
My dad had a little home business in the field of financials and accounting, but I was allowed to use the PC for gaming, connecting to BBS’s and so forth. The guys had told me that Linux could live alongside MS-DOS and dual-boot, so I bravely started installing the new “superior operating system”. I knew nothing about Unix-like operating systems and dual-booting was a totally new concept, for me at least.
Of course it failed and I did not take backups of my dads data. I got it booting and I could see at least some of the MS-DOS based files and data, but my dads account tools, spreadsheet, word processor etc. were nowhere to be found or executed. I freaked out of course, thinking that now I screwed up big time as I had basically wiped out dad’s business.
But being a clever boy I figured out I could call the man himself - after all Linus Torvalds is not the most common name around. So I contacted a telephone number registry service, got his land line number (cell phones went big just a couple years later) and proceeded with the call.
I believe it was his mom who picked up my call and responded with a swedish accent. Is Linus at home? Yes he was and I was soon talking to the guy who was to be the king of nerds. I briefly explained my situation, trusting that the genius would get me out of trouble. His guidance however was somewhat disappointing:
"Format C: and start over"
This left me with the tasks of re-installing my dad’s PC, inventing some clever white lies of what actually happened and thinking that this dude is no better than the MS-DOS guys I knew.
I gradually migrated my own PC’s from Windows 7 to Linux around around 2008, starting with Ubuntu 7.04 “Feisty Fawn”, almost 15 years later I had a brief encounter with the man himself. Indeed the operating system is superior.
“Format C: and start over”