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Torvalds splits 2012 Millennium Technology Prize with gene scientist

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Linus Torvalds picked up his share of the world's largest technology award, the Millennium Prize, along with a check for €600,000 ($752,000) at a ceremony in Finland.

For the first time in the history of the award, the judging panel from the Technology Academy Finland couldn't choose among the contenders and decided to split the $1.5m prize. Torvalds was recognized for his creation and subsequent development of Linux as an open standard and shared the prize with Japanese stem cell scientist Shinya Yamanaka.

"The International Selection Committee has to judge whether an innovation has had a favourable impact on people's lives and assess its potential for further development to benefit humanity in the future. The innovations of both this year's winners embody that principle," said the Technology Academy Finland in a statement.

"Dr Shinya Yamanaka's discovery of a new method to develop pluripotent stem cells for medical research could help combat intractable diseases. And Linus Torvalds's work has kept the web open for the pursuit of knowledge and for the benefit of humanity - not simply for financial interests."

Lest you think a Finnish organization might be prone to favoritism in this award, Torvalds is the first local to be awarded the honor. Technology Academy Finland, a joint venture between the Finnish government and industry, awards the €1.2m ($1.54m) prize every two years for "life-enhancing technological innovations" and past winners have included Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

In a video for his acceptance, Torvalds said that he'd got many things in Linux wrong, including initially the name. He'd originally called the operating system FREAX but this was changed to Linux by the uploader, adding the unassuming Finn's name to one of the most important code bases in the world.

Warning: Contains Finnish humor

He first knew that it was taking off around 1992, he said, when he realized he didn't know everyone on the message boards any more, or how they were using the code. Getting to version 1.0 in 1994 was a major step in getting industry to accept Linux and Torvalds said the conflict with Microsoft was useful for publicity but not as rancorous as some have suggested.

Steve Ballmer's infamous description of Linux as communism aside, Torvalds said that if you thought being socialist meant being motivated by social conscience, then he counted himself such. But he acknowledged that moving to the US in 1997 had opened up new opportunities.

"You can do anything here. The money-grabbing approach, even if it's slightly tasteless - especially if you come from Europe - it's a really good motivational factor and it's a really good way of getting things done," he explained. "Has it changed me? I assume so. But I don't think it's made me more money-conscious than I used to be."

Torvalds is sanguine about the future of Linux, saying that it is inevitable that the evolution of technology will make the operating system obsolete. But thanks to open source he said, even 50 years down the best computer systems of the day will still have access to the Linux code.

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