Linux and Its Image Problem

I smile a little every time I hear someone say something like “I could never use Linux. It’s just too complicated.” The funny thing about this is that there’s a really decent chance they’ve used Linux that day and didn’t even realize it. Linux is everywhere. You’re using it right now if you’re looking at this website. It’s running on Linux servers, I know because that’s what I paid for. Does your car have a built in GPS? There’s a chance that’s running on some kind of Linux. Use an Android smartphone? That’s Linux. Those signs above the  freeway telling you about accidents and how long it’ll take to reach a specific exit? Linux.

Linux is everywhere, but like a silent benefactor, you don’t realize it. The problem runs a little shallower than that, though. Linux has an image problem and it has to do with its logo. People take logos very seriously, even if you don’t think they do. Heck, people take logos seriously even if they don’t think they do. For instance, let’s look at a couple of different logos.

Windows 8

Windows 8

This is the Windows 8 logo. It depicts the new design and feel of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. Microsoft took a big chance by flattening the user interface and rolling out an entirely new system for accessing apps and content that was originally called the Metro interface. Then a German grocery company sued Microsoft over the use of their name. After the dust settled Microsoft calls the new interface the Modern UI while everyone else calls it Metro. This is a professional logo.

Designed in Cupertino

Designed in Cupertino

This is, of course, the Apple logo. It carries forth Apple’s love of aluminium, rounded corners, beveled edges, and simple grace. The Apple logo, even more than the Microsoft logo, looks like the products Apple is so famous for.  When you look at this logo, it could almost be a product on its own, like you could buy it at an Apple store as a drink coaster or keychain or something. It has a physical presence and it’s also a professional logo.

Damn, man. Just... damn.

Damn, man. Just… damn.

This is Tux, the logo so many people associate with Linux and open source as a whole.

It depicts a fat, flightless waterfowl.

With a bored look on his face.

Actually the poor thing has a look that, if he had pants, he’s just pooped them. I especially love the wing resting on the foot, as if he’s picking his toes. Oh, and let’s not forget the man-boobs.

You know what the worst part of the Linux logo is? It tells you nothing. You can look at the Windows 8 logo, and nothing but the Windows 8 logo, and you’ll learn something about Windows 8. You can look at the Apple logo and learn something about Apple. Once you see an Apple logo and a MacBook Air, you realize why the logo looks that way.

You look at Tux the Penguin and you learn that… um, well, Linux is like a penguin in that… uh, no. Wait, the penguin represents….


It tells you nothing about Linux.

Okay, fine. Okay. That’s a thing that is and it’s probably too late to change it. Penguins = Linux and if you want to know the reason why, it’s probably more simple than you can imagine. Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, likes penguins. That’s fine and lovely but the thing is, I like boobs — that doesn’t mean I would use boobs as a company logo. But the logo has traction, and maybe we can build on it. And by “maybe we can build on it” I mean, “maybe a designer who knows what the hell they’re doing could build a better penguin.”

Build a better Tux through design and charisma.

Build a better Tux through design and charisma.


This is a re-imagining of the Tux logo by A. Vatsaev, a New York designer with a penchant for operating systems and user interfaces.  Look at this and you learn something about Linux. There’s simplicity and grace and an easily recognizable figure that you could spot and know from yards away.

I’m not saying that a new logo would create a thriving new market for Linux laptops and so on, but it couldn’t hurt the image of the free and open source operating system to update it’s logo. After all, logo updates are a standard business practice.

1 comment

  1. I happen to like Tux. And I disagree you can learn anything from MS or Apple’s logos. MacAir isn’t their only product and Windows certainly isn’t all MS has to offer. Linux by itself, Tux or no Tux, is simply the kernel or the core. Along with this comes the methods to use this core. Ubuntu, Red Hat, Suse, Android, Mint, etc., all have logos that represent them just as well as Apple and MS. There are also many, hundreds really, different representations of the original idea of Tux.

    All that aside, I do agree most people never realize they are using some form of the Linux kernel. But many people, if not most of them, are in the ‘I just want it to work camp’. The how and why doesn’t matter. They use the device for whatever and that is what is important.

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