Quora Answer : Who would be considered more of a visionary - Linus Torvalds or Bill Gates?
Let's preface this by saying I'm a hardcore free-software advocate. I'll use Linux in preference to Windows any day. And I think Git is a great invention which is changing the world in quite profound ways (look at the innovation at GitHub which takes the asynchronous coordination implicit in Git and makes it into a whole organizational / management philosophy.)
I'm not particularly impressed by Gates's billions. Or the fact that he conquered the world with his software. There are plenty of network lock-in effects to explain that.
There's no doubt that Gates is the greater visionary of the two. Gates's entire career has been based on having a vision of how the world could / should be. Often a vision which was more perceptive than that of others. He then ruthlessly executed TOWARDS that goal. And largely succeeded.
He's done this twice. First with the invention of Microsoft. Gates's vision, which even now is not well understood, was that it would be possible to be pure software company, that managed to commodify and control the entire hardware industry. He was arguing for and pursuing this vision since the mid 70s, when all serious computer companies were hardware companies first and software was seen as a secondary, derivative, service.
That vision had pretty much 20 years of grand success before, it ultimately
failed. It failed for many reasons, partly because of the success of free software, which enabled the rise of internet giants like Google and Facebook, free of dependency on Microsoft. And partly because of the US anti-trust regulation which obliged Microsoft to throw a life-line to dying rival Apple while scaring it away from the kind of vertical integration between operating system and web-services that Apple exploited so well with its app. ecosystems. (Imagine what the DoJ would have done to Microsoft if they'd tried to impose the same restrictions on Windows developers that Apple does on iPhone / iPad developers.)
But by then Gates had already turned his attention to another vision. That philanthropy, guided by serious data and quantitative analysis and done on a grand scale, could be far more effective and successful than the more emotional, ad hoc charity that is the norm. We've yet to see the full results of this, but it does seem to be having some of the desired effects.
Linus, on the other hand, is a creator of two great and profound pieces of software : Linux and Git. He deserves widespread acclaim and laudation for his brilliance and generosity. But in both cases these were largely the product of necessity. Linus wanted a Unix-like OS, so he wrote one. He didn't have vision or aspiration for a new or better operating system, he wasn't trying to advance the art of OSes. So he copied the Unix standards of the day. It was absolutely the right thing to do, but it wasn't guided by a plan to take over the world. Or a plan of any kind, initially.
Git, as well, was driven by necessity. Written in a hurry when he lost the right to use BitKeeper to manage the Linux kernel. It's another great piece of software and profoundly important and influential. But it's largely the result of tweaking a known pattern to suit his personal needs. Linus didn't, by any account I've read, set out to change how organizations were managed or how the software industry worked, he just needed a tool to cope with the huge infrastructure that had grown up around the Linux kernel.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Gates is smarter or nicer or ultimately more important than Torvalds. They are both colossi of our times, and great engineer / hackers. But if you take the idea of "visionary" seriously, as one who has a vision and then pursues it, then Gates is far more of one than Torvalds.