[SATLUG] Steve Jobs or Linus Torvalds?

Mike Wallace m.a.wallace at gmail.com
Sat Aug 27 15:16:18 CDT 2011

> But in reality, Linus Torvalds' impact on just about any aspect of
> our lifes is probably much greater. Any comments?
It depends on how you measure impact.  There's unseen impact (e.g. your
travel/banking/news web site is backed by Linux servers) and there's
personal impact (e.g. the iPhone or laptop you use on a daily basis).  The
general public is much more familiar with personal impact, so it is no
wonder that Steve Jobs is in the news while Linus Torvalds is barely
mentioned, if at all.

The only way to compare the influence of these two would be a counterfactual
study of how the world would have been different had their inventions never
seen the light of day.  Say that there never was a Linux.  What would have
happened with the fledgling internet in the 1990s? What would have filled
the server platform space? Would someone else have invented an operating
system similar to Linux? Say that Apple had been started by Steve Wozniak
alone without Steve Jobs? How would the company have turned out differently?
Would it even still be around today or would be a forgotten company long ago
bought out by a Microsoft, IBM, or HP?  Or would it be very similar to the
Apple of today? Was it really Wozniak, instead of Jobs, who was the true
leader and innovator?

It's unfair to say that Linus Torvalds is more significant because of how
many servers, mainframes, etc run on and depend on Linux. Likewise, it's
unfair to say that Steve Jobs is more significant because of the recent
proliferation of Apple devices.  Which altered history would have changed
the present day the most? Of course, this is a pure thought-space argument.
You could argue that the current day would be radically different in either
case.  Or you could argue that Apple would be basically the same (due to
Wozniak) and that Linux would be basically the same (due to the community...
would someone else have developed that initial Linux kernel with others
getting involved with the project?).

I don't think that this is a simple question to answer, but it is quite
fascinating to think about how our world would be different, especially
since we're only looking back about 20 - 30 years.


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