"OK, so we should be thinking of a lovable, cuddly, stuffed penguin sitting down after having gorged itself on...
herring." When he made this suggestion on the Linux Kernel Mailing List in 1996, Linux creator Linus Torvalds sealed his fate as a lifelong second banana.
Sure, Torvalds is the uber-guru of Linux, but you don't see his face on T-shirts or mugs, and he isn't depicted in video games. His effigy doesn't dangle from the girls' earlobes or sit on Linuxphiles' desks around the world. No, it's Tux the Linux penguin that's hot, not Linus, and it's Tux's image that pops up in fun places all over the Internet.
Besides being cute as all get-out, Tux the penguin is probably the most-famous computer-related mascot in the world. Powering his fame is the characteristic he shares with the Linux kernel itself: He's free. Tux's creator, illustrator Larry Ewing, encourages people to "do as you see fit with the images."
So, if Joe Tuxstein uses a version of Ewing's Tux on his Web site or as a logo for his open source product, he won't be slapped with a lawsuit. Here's a sampling of the fun things Linuxphiles have done with Ewing's lovable penguin.
On the Web, Tux gets as many makeovers as the men on TV's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The computer animation and graphics guys love to put Tux in different wardrobes and settings. My favorite is Tux in the Oval Office, featured on the Washington D.C. Linux User Group site.
Thanks to Ewing's largess, Tux graces the logos of many Linux companies. He has been known to mix his monkey-suit with a tie or mortarboard, and he's even donned a crown as the mascot for laptop vendor Emperor Linux.
In the images on the van Heesch brothers' site, you'll find Tux on a snowboard, relaxing in a beach chair and eating herring while waddling down a beach. The brothers' Polder Model is the first of the "four seasons" pictorials. Picture Tux, umbrella in hand, strolling down a moody forest path. It ain't Vermeer, but it's so Dutch. Maybe "Tux with a pearl earring" is next.
Of course, there are low-end Tux-emblazoned products. They run the gamut, from mugs and mousepads to risque undergarments, and I see nothing "thong" with that. Being a more uptown, upscale Tux fan, however, I favor the gold Tux earrings and the statuettes offered by the Linux Jewelry Store.
Less controversial is Tux's casting as an action hero in Sunspire Studio's TuxRacer games. Tux is pitted against three "arctic characters" in 18 downhill courses. Sliding on his belly, flipping through the air, collecting herring and performing tricks, Tux is more versatile and even cuter than Jackie Chan. Warning: Sunspire makes a version of the game for Windows. You can just hear the penguinistas hissing.
If Tux is getting far too popular for your tastes, then you can have some fun with Yeti Sports. In this little game, you make the abominable snowman swing a bat and whack a penguin out on the polar ice. Scores are based on how far the little bird soars and then slides on his belly. Who said that penguins can't fly?
Assistant site editor Amy Kucharik contributed to this report.
For more information:
Tux in the oval office on the Washington D.C. Linux User Group homepage
Linux Jewelry Store
The van Heesch brothers' Tux illustrations and animation
TuxRacer game screen shots
Whack a penguin with this game from Yeti Sports.
Description of how Tux was created: http://www.isc.tamu.edu/~lewing/linux/notes.html
Tux products at CafePress