Short Bytes: The official mascot of the Linux kernel developed by Linus Torvalds is a penguin named Tux. You might have thought about the probable reasons why a penguin has been used as the face of the Linux kernel. Some people believe that Torvalds was bitten by a penguin that’s why he chose one to represent his kernel.
The very first image of Tux was created by Larry Ewing using GIMP in 1996 after taking clues from Alan Cox. Linus Torvalds once saw an image of a penguin which looked like the Creature Comforts characters. This inspired him to go for the penguin Linux mascot. In the Linux kernel mailing list, he suggested some refinements to the initial idea proposed by Cox.He did not want to go for the muscular penguin image that inspired him earlier. Instead, he emphasized on a cute and contented one, just like the one that ended up being Tux. Torvalds described contended as “it has either just gotten laid, or it’s stuffed on herring”.
“Take it from me, I’m an expert on penguins, those are really the only two options,” Torvalds wrote in an email.
James Hughes was the first person to call Tux, Tux. According to him, it was an acronym for Torvalds UniX. The name Tux also finds its roots in the word tuxedo as a penguin looks as if it is wearing a black tuxedo.
Another story associated with Tux is that Torvalds was once bitten by a penguin. He was at the National Zoo & Aquarium, Canberra, Australia. Torvalds is said to have contracted Penguinitis after a penguin attacked him. He had a “fixation for flightless and fat waterfowl,” said Jeff Ayers, a Linux programmer. Torvalds claimed that a ferocious penguin that bit me and infected me with a little-known disease called Penguinitis.
“Penguinitis makes you stay awake at nights just thinking about penguins and feeling great love towards”. The rare disease Torvalds advertised in various Linux group discussions was indeed fake but the whole biting story had some level of truthiness. A timid little penguin at the Zoo did express his affection towards him and gave a love bite on his finger.
“I’ve been to Australia several times these days mostly for Linux.Conf.Au. But my first trip – and the one when I was bitten by a ferocious fairy penguin: you really should keep those things locked up! – was in 93 or so talking about Linux for the Australian Unix Users Group,” said Linux Torvalds in an interview.
Many people don’t believe that Torvalds was actually bitten by a penguin. Still, stories like “Linus was assaulted by a huge, rabid man-eating penguin that was running amok and was moving at more than a 100 miles per hour when it attacked him” are told with humor among the Linux community.
Some developers were not comfortable with the “cute image” Linux kernel was given. Before the birth of Tux, the Linux kernel mailing lists were filled with suggestions of foxes, eagles, hawks, and even sharks. Tony Pagano claimed that they were correct to think that it was not good. Pagano was a former corporate logo design teacher at the School of Visual Arts. He said that Tux gave a feeling of a toy when people saw it in product packaging. “It’s misleading. Linux is not cute.”
Forget cuteness, Slashdot’s editor Robin Miller thought that Tux has a sex appeal and it’s a “great” logo. “Women are strongly drawn to Tux, they love Tux,” he said. “That’s why Linux developers are always smiling.” He gave an example of his past experience when he went to the Auto Diesel College to talk to the Linux users group and he wasn’t able to find the correct room.
“Then two beautiful girls got out of a pickup truck, and unloaded a four-foot-high stuffed Tux. They headed off and I followed them and Tux to the meeting,” said Miller. “You’re not going to see Microsoft users carrying around a Window, or Mac people with a big stuffed apple. But you always know when you’re in Linux country because you will see Tux.”
Tux was actually created for the Linux logo competition, in fact, three such competitions happened but Tux couldn’t win any of them. Hence, he is called the official Linux mascot, not the official Linux logo.
Tux has been featured in video games and commercials. Some video games have featured female versions of Tux named Penny and Gown. For Linux kernel version 2.6.29, Linus Torvalds chose the logo of a Tasmanian devil wearing a fake penguin beak. This was a form of support to save the Tasmanian devil species on the verge of extinction due to the devil facial tumor disease.
Just like the Linux kernel, Tux is also open source and anyone can use it to promote a Linux-related product without paying a license fee or any official confirmation. Various Linux distributions have used Tux or their logos are inspired from Tux.
With the inputs from Wired.
If you have something to add, tell us in the comments below.