Linux and the Penguin

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The penguin mentioned here is not the awe-inspiring original species, but the one which is embodied as the Linux mascot Tux.

What do you see when you look at him?

“Just a penguin or is it a lovely, cuddly, stuffed penguin, sitting contended after engorging a wholesome meal of herring”, says Linus Benedict Torvalds, the Finnish American software engineer, who was the brain behind developing the world’s favourite Linux kernel. The idea arose from a competition to submit a logo. The founder was fond of penguins and thought that the image of penguin would attract a fair response from the Linux users, especially the kids. Ironically, the penguin never made the journey to the cup decider.

The penguin was later named as Tux by James Hughes. Tux is an abbreviation for Torvalds UniX. Those behind the creation and promotion of the mascot into the limelight were Alan Cox, who first suggested and Larry Ewing, who created the cold-dweller.

According to Jeff Ayers, Linus Torvalds had a “fixation for flightless, fat waterfowl” and Torvalds claimed to have contracted “penguinitis” after being gently nibbled by a penguin: “Penguinitis makes you stay awake at nights just thinking about penguins and feeling great love towards them.”

Let’s hear the story from the words of Torvalds himself:

I’ve always liked penguins, and when I was in Canberra a few years ago, we went to the local zoo with Andrew Tridgell (of samba fame). There they had a ferocious penguin that bit me and infected me with a little-known disease called penguinitis. That’s how I realized Penguinitis can make you stay awake at nights just thinking about penguins and feeling the great love towards them.

So when Linux needed a mascot, the first thing that came into my mind was this picture of the majestic penguin, and the rest was history.

The official adoption of the penguin was done on May 9, 1996. From there onwards, Tux represented the freedom and satisfaction of using and developing an open-source operating system like Linux. Now, Tux is a glowing beacon of Linux as well as the entire open source community. It has been featured in open-source look-alikes of other mainstream games, such as Tux Racer, Extreme Tux Racer, Tux Math Scrabble, TuxWordSmith Tux Math, SuperTux, SuperTuxKart, and Tux Paint.

However, Linus seems to have asserted its desires and today, there is no doubt that Tux is far better known and more widely used than others that figured highly in the competition. To be fair (and with a nod to democracy), we should perhaps call Tux the “Linux Mascot” – and leave the term “Linux Logo” for Matt Ericson’s image.

Argument of Linus, justifiable:

Compare penguin with a more abstract logo like the Windows logo. You can’t really do anything with a logo like that. It just ‘is’.

There are certain Linux supporters who don’t like the penguin. Yes, I know that’s hard to believe.

Just what to say: Don’t mess with the penguin.

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