Tux/Citable Version

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This article is about Tux the Linux mascot. For other uses of the term Tux, please see Tux (disambiguation).
Tux the official Linux penguin. This image depicts him as most commonly appears and as originally drawn by Larry Ewing. Also see "A pictorial history of Tux".

Tux the penguin is the official logo and cartoon mascot for the Linux computer operating system. First drawn in 1996 by Larry Ewing, the fun-loving character has a special place in many people's imaginations, both inside and outside of the global Linux community.

An early sketch of Tux, depicting how Linux's early developers felt their operating system was gearing for competition with other operating systems.

Tux originated from a discussion on the "Linux kernel" mailing list. On May 1, 1996, early Linux contributor Matt Hartley began a thread entitled "Linux logo", which included an image by David Christiansen showing the planet Earth as seen from outer space, along with the captions "LINUX" and "Take your computer to another dimension."[1] [2] At one point, Linus Torvalds, the software engineer behind Linux, had casually mentioned his fondness of penguins, and list-users began to rally around the idea.

The next day, Alan Cox, a highly-esteemed hacker, posted a message suggesting that the Linux logo should be "a picture of the BSD daemon"—the logo for another open source operating system—"flat out on the floor with stars around its head and a penguin in boxing gloves standing on top."[3] Mark Lehrer countered that FreeBSD was not Linux's real competition. Microsoft's Windows 95 was—then the dominant operating system worldwide, in fact—so the logo should instead show a penguin smashing a window.[4] Alan Clucas then suggested that these two ideas would be best if combined, with a fighting penguin victorious over both its operating system competitors.[5]

Although parodies of other operating systems seemed by far the most popular, little real progress was being made. Besides, Torvalds could not bring himself to endorse the mocking of other operating systems. So he made a general plea for someone artistic to design a logo based on his favorite image of a penguin and release it under a free license,[6] emphatically stating that his penguin concept was final.

Tux takes shape and is named

Not long after, Dale Scheetz posted a prototype of a penguin holding up the Earth, combining Christiansen's original idea with Torvalds'.[7] Torvalds was doubtful, however, saying the penguin looked too weak to hoist an entire planet—the bird appeared in imminent danger of being squashed, in fact! The penguin logo, Torvalds thought, should instead be cute and cuddly. He envisioned the bird sitting, content and smiling, having just let out a small burp after a grand feast of herring. The bird was not to be fat, just happily gorged with fish.[8] It was Larry Ewing who then drew the original version of the Linux penguin—on a computer running Linux, of course.[9]

Once completed, the new mascot needed a name. Humorously, one of the earliest suggestions, from Henning Schmiedehausen, was "Homer", because to him the bird resembled television character Homer Simpson .[10] As a joke, Tux was later re-drawn by Anton Johansson as Homer Simpson morphed into a penguin.[11] Some then suggested "Linnie" as the penguin's name, but it was "Tux", coined by James Hughes, that soon caught on. This name has a two-fold meaning: as an acronym for Torvalds Unix, and as a pun based on the shortening of tuxedo, which penguins are often said to be wearing.[12] [13]

Continued "distributions" of Tux

Ever since Tux's beginning, he has been re-drawn and re-set in seemingly endless ways. Click on the image above to be brought to a gallery of some of his creative renditions.

Tux was therefore born of what Torvalds had often expressed as his affinity for "flightless, fat waterfowl". He once joked he had caught "penguinitis" after being nipped by a ferocious one, saying his "disease" caused him to "stay awake at nights just thinking about penguins and feeling great love towards them".[14] Some years later, Torvalds confessed he had not been looking for a "Linux Corporate Image", but for something fun that could be extensively modified yet still be recognizable.

It is not surprising, then, that the Tux character has never been static. Like the Linux system itself, he changes with the input of creative contributors. From the beginning, people have felt free to "play with" and re-draw the character in a variety of "goofy" ways. Each has creatively cast Tux in a different light, including a skateboarder, a ninja, and a pipe-smoker. They have given Tux appearances in magazines, television broadcasts, video games and other software, mouse-pads, on clothing, stickers, and other paraphernalia. Sculptor Eric Harshbarger made a 25" Lego model of Tux,[15] and anyone can make his or her own plush toy (see image gallery at right) from free patterns which are available.[16]

People have even gone so far as to get Tux permanently etched onto their bodies, as a tattoo.[17]

Most recently, some have suspected Tux to have competing romantic involvements. Gown and Penny, two female penguins, have appeared in several open source games. Tux's status remains unclear, however, since the gals are not official Linux projects.


  1. Matt Hartley (1996-05-5). Linux logo.
  2. David Christiansen. lin64.jpg.
  3. Alan Cox (1996-05-2). Re: Linux logo (LKML).
  4. Mark Lehrer (1996-05-4). Re: Linux logo.
  5. Alan Clucas (1996-05-4). Re: Linux logo.
  6. See ftp://ftp.cs.helsinki.fi/pub/Software/Linux/Kernel/v1.3/ccpenguin.jpg for the original image posted by Torvalds.
  7. Dale Scheetz (1996-05-9). Linux Logo prototype..
  8. Linus Torvalds (1996-05-9). Re: Linux Logo prototype..
  9. A complete description of the methods Ewing used is on his website, http://www.isc.tamu.edu/~lewing/linux/notes.html.
  10. Henning Schmiedehausen (1996-06-10). Re: Let's name the penguin! (citation 1).
  11. Steve Baker (Accessed April 18th, 2007). A Complete History of Tux.
  12. James Hughes (1996-06-10). Re: Let's name the penguin! (citation 2).
  13. LD Landis (1996-06-12). Re: Let's name the penguin! (citation 3).
  14. Steve Baker (Accessed April 18th, 2007). A Complete History of Tux.
  15. Eric Harshbarger. Linux Penguin - LEGO.
  16. See http://www.free-penguin.org
  17. Suzzy Olliver (Retrieved 2007-04-15). Tux (the Linux penguin) tattoos.

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