Netscape had Marc Andreessen - onetime People Magazine cover boy
and co-developer of Mosaic, the browser that transformed the
Internet. Transmeta has Linus Torvalds - progenitor and
self-described "benevolent dictator" of Linux, the "Unix-like"
operating system that bears his name, the current media
So, how did Transmeta get so lucky?
In part, it has to do with homesickness on the part of H. Peter
Anvin - a legendary Linux developer in his own right and an early
Transmeta employee. In late 1996, eager to see his family, Anvin
returned to his native Sweden on vacation. Since Torvalds is a
member of Finland's Swedish-speaking minority - and since he and
Anvin knew each other well as members of the core group of key
Linux kernel developers - Anvin was asked to hop a shuttle from
Sweden to Finland to convey an invitation to Torvalds to visit the
secretive Transmeta in Silicon Valley.
As Torvalds tells it, "The first day ... when they were giving
me a feel for what went on at Transmeta. I went back to the hotel
that evening and I thought, "These people are CRAZY!" This was more
than three years ago, when Transmeta had not a single chip. The
simulations ran at GLACIAL speed. Still, The next day, I basically
decided that, if I am to go to work for a company, I want to go to
work for a company that does something fun - something interesting.
And the first, initial reaction that, 'These people are crazy!' is
a positive reaction in that sense."
So why choose a chip company, when every Linux start-up in the
world was after him? Torvalds explains, "I've obviously gotten a
lot of job offers from Linux companies, but I didn't want to
polarize the Linux market. I'm really happy being an engineer at a
company that is very interested in Linux, but is not seen as a
Linux company. We're a chip company where Linux is seen as part of
a much larger strategy - and that's something I find very
comfortable. Besides, Transmeta has been able to give me
opportunities that I wouldn't otherwise have had. It's also a very
cool vehicle for doing debugging, when you control the whole
And Torvalds' skill as a debugger is legendary around
"He's a god," says Dave Taylor, a co-developer of the original
Quake who gave up being CEO of his own company to work for
Transmeta. "He can look at a Linux display and somehow predict,
just from the way it misbehaves, exactly where, in 100,000 lines of
code, the problem is. And, nine times out of 10, he's right."
"The thing is," Taylor adds, "he isn't alone. There are a lot of
god-like programmers at Transmeta. Compared to them, I'm just an
And, although the sushi-loving Torvalds has apparently become an
avid pool player, Taylor is less complimentary about his abilities
as a Quake player. "He sucks," Taylor says cheerfully. "And he
always will, until he learns to use a mouse."
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