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What is it about Linus Torvalds that's endeared him to so many computer users compared to, say, Bill Gates? Why has this saint-like image surrounded him? Some Linux users see Linus as some kind of god-like super hero who can do no wrong, but I think it's been made pretty clear again and again that he was (and still is) a pretty normal guy who did a pretty extraordinary thing.
The Linux community is basically the successor to the community spirit that thrived in the 1980s and early 1990s on the Amiga, ST, Spectrum, C64, Amstrad et al before the proliferation of Windows, with the same tight-knit spirit and slightly tongue-in-cheek style that accompanied programmer and "hacker" groups back then. Linux basically represents the cheerful side of computing with people doing it either for fun or because they want to contribute something. Of course, money is made in the process, but it's not the sole driving force behind the creation.
Windows, on the other hand, was created out of a pure drive to make money and as such the community that developed around it is very profit-orientated. If you see "free" software (meaning no money, not the RMS definition of free) on Windows, most of the time it will be a crippled demo version masquerading as free, full of advertising, or just plain crap. What little truly free software there is is usually a port of a good Linux program thanks to it being open-source.
So, bearing this in mind, what is it about Linus Torvalds that endears him to so many people? Well, while Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are the stereotypical business-driven programmers (well, Gates is anyway), Torvalds is a hark back to the early days of computing where the typical programmer's office was at home, even in their bedroom. Indeed, Linux was created in the basement of his mother's house. Many open-source writers are the same - they write this software in their free time, are not driven by profit and are not obsessed with PR.
Not to downplay Linus's importance in the open source movement but he was and still is simply a hacker. GNU really started the whole philosophy that most Linux users have come to love. Linus simply implemented it in an operating system.