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How Well Do You Know Your FOSS Mascots?

by David Pardue (kalwisti)

The open-source community has a tradition of creating mascots — which tend to be cute, cuddly animals — rather than adopting staid logos. Sometimes whimsical, the mascots indicate that they do not take themselves too seriously. Although some users believe this type of branding is unprofessional or amateurish, mascots are arguably part of Linux culture. I would like to survey computing mascots in this month's article; they may represent software, hardware or any project or collective entity behind them.

It might be useful to distinguish between mascots and logos. A mascot is a character that represents a brand's personality; it is more complex than a logo and can take a variety of forms, such as animals, people, or objects. A mascot can convey emotion and personality through its expression. According to graphic designer Lenore Ooyevaar, a mascot “has a life outside of the logo”. Logos and mascots are not mutually exclusive, however; organizations can have both a logo and a mascot, e.g., KDE, Java, the FreeBSD operating system.


Historically, Richard Stallman's GNU Project (“GNU's Not Unix”) preceded Linux (and Tux). The gnu (wildebeest) mascot / logo was created by illustrator Étienne Suvasa in the 1980s; it is regularly used by both the GNU Project and by the Free Software Foundation in advertising and advocacy. The gnu often appears alongside Tux, to signify the longtime combination of the GNU operating system with the Linux kernel in most Linux distributions.


There is a simpler version of the gnu head, which is now preferred because it looks better at low resolutions but also works well at high resolutions for printing. It was created by Inkscape developer Aurélio Heckert.


The etymology of “gnu” is interesting; the word was coined by the Khoisan people of Southern Africa and refers to the sound made by wildebeests. Wildebeest means ‘wild beast' in Afrikaans.

Debian's first logo — before its legendary crimson swirl — was “Baby GNU” by Étienne Suvasa. The design pictures a baby gnu holding a blanket and sucking his thumb à la Linus van Pelt (from Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip).

Baby GNU


Tux the Penguin needs no introduction. He is so iconic and ingrained in our community that it is hard to imagine any other mascot. The suggestion of having a logo / mascot dates back to a discussion in 1996, on the Linux kernel developers' mailing list. The first few iterations they made were based on mocking other operating systems. For example, there was one that looked like the Microsoft Windows logo but ended with an L. One had a shark in it, another featured an eagle. Linus Torvalds mentioned that he liked penguins, and that settled the matter.

Tux was created by computer programmer Larry Ewing in 1996, while he was a student at Texas A&M University. His design was approved by Linus. Ewing describes how he drew the penguin, using GIMP (ver. 0.54), a mouse and “a lot of patience”.


James Hughes suggested the name Tux, which is short for TorvaldsUniX. Tux is also an abbreviation for “tuxedo”, which resembles the penguin's typical markings. For a time, the name “Homer” was a candidate because several developers thought the character resembled Homer Simpson. (This was during the height of The Simpsons' popularity).

Although there is much Tux trivia available online, I found a few tidbits which I would like to share with you. In addition to Tux's role in the SuperTuxKart video game, he makes a brief appearance in a Kellogg's Froot Loops commercial — as a squeaky toy that distracts the Abominable Snowman's sled dogs.

Tuz (also known as Tazzie Tux) temporarily relieved Tux of his duties in 2009, to support the effort to save the Tasmanian devil species from extinction. Tuz was the mascot of the Linux Conference in Australia (Hobart, Tasmania).

Tuz, created by Andrew McGown, has a Tasmanian devil's body with Tux's penguin beak.


Eric Harshbarger, a builder of large-scale Lego brick mosaics and sculptures, created a 25-inch tall model of Tux.

Tux Lego

In Tyumen, Siberia, a group of Linux devotees obtained permission from the municipal government in 2010 to erect a small monument to Tux. The small plaque has a winged Tux, ready to take off into the air. The monument symbolizes the unlimited possibilities and independence of open software.

Tux Monument

Many Tux variants have been created over the years; some resemble pop culture characters such as Batman, Superman, SpongeBob SquarePants, and so forth. My personal favorites were's “Tux Factory” icons. Although the original website is now defunct, a group of industrious fans have salvaged a portion of the artwork and made it available again:

Tux Gallery

PCLinuxOS's Dobie

PClinuxOS Dobie

Our favorite distro features Dobie the Bull as its mascot. In 2009, a design competition was held to find a mascot for PCLinuxOS. There were approximately thirty entries, and forum members voted for their favorite in an online poll. The top three submissions were then voted on by Texstar and the other members of the PCLinuxOS development team.

The contest results were announced in the August 2009 issue of The PCLinuxOS Magazine. The winner was Dobie the Bull, created by forum member timeth with Inkscape. timeth kindly provided me with some background about his creative process:

“I drew Dobie for the purpose of the competition. I had started doing a lot of graphic design work for the distro after I discovered it, and wanted to give back in some way because I could see how much work Tex and the community were putting into it. I really loved the community, and also the fact that I'd found something that wasn't Windows. It was the first Linux distro I had tried. There were some really talented artists back when I first joined the community: Sproggy [Kori Tilcock] (R.I.P.) and Archie, just to name a couple. I was inspired by the work that they were doing.

I started to think about what a meaningful mascot would look like. I thought about Tex being from Texas, USA, and what might suit. I decided on a longhorn bull, and started looking for images for inspiration. I found a real image of a bull (not a longhorn) that I liked, so I used that to help create a stylised, general shape, and then I changed the horns to long ones. I gave him blue horns in keeping with the blue of PCLinuxOS. I wanted to create something very simple that could be edited and improved by others, although I think it has remained largely unchanged. The name Dobie comes from James Frank Dobie [1888-1964] who was an influential figure in Texas and who helped save the Texas Longhorn breed of cattle from extinction. I thought that would be a fitting name”.


While researching this article, I came across a concept new to me: OS-tans (or “OS girls”). OS-tans are anthropomorphic personifications of computer operating systems, created by various amateur Japanese artists. The characters are typically female and usually depicted as sisters of varying ages. The “-tan” suffix in Japanese is a mispronunciation of “-chan”, which is an informal, affectionate and diminutive honorific (implying cuteness).

I was surprised to discover a PCLinuxOS-tan. Although I have used this distribution since 2007, I had never seen this image before. The character is personified as a tall young woman, with black hair and a blue dress. She has a quiet personality and “rarely makes trouble, stemming from the OS's stability and good performance (like most of her sisters)”.

PClinuxOS Tan

I suspect this character (by an uncredited artist) is completely unofficial and rather outdated (ca. 2007–2010); however, I decided to mention it as a curiosity.

Other Distributions

(These are not listed in any particular order)

openSUSE's mascot is a chameleon named “Geeko” Geeko was the winner of a naming contest that took place in 2000. The new portmanteau consists of “gecko” (a kind of lizard) and “geek” (which, in addition to its computer-related meaning, alluded to a member of the SUSE management team, Jürgen Geck, whose nickname was “Gecko”).

openSUSE Gecko

Red Hat Linux had the iconic figure, “Shadowman”, as part of its logo. When Red Hat began in 1995, it was an unknown startup “sneaking” into data centers with boxed copies of a Linux OS. As Red Hat evolved and grew, the company decided to replace Shadowman in 2019. Steven Vaughan-Nichols noted the results of a 2017 survey which revealed that people saw Shadowman as a ‘sinister, secretive, evil sneaky' fellow who did not inspire their trust. So the company decided that it was time to change the logo.


Lubuntu's mascot is a penguin with blue hair named “Lenny”. Although Lenny became the project's mascot in 2014 (when releases were using the LXDE desktop environment), he has not appeared much in branding / marketing materials since Lubuntu transitioned to using LXQt in October 2018.


As an unofficial mascot, Gentoo Linux has Larry the Cow. Astute readers observed that since he has no udders, Larry is a male and should more appropriately be called “Larry the Bull”. A bug report was filed discussing this, but the Gentoo Documents Team closed it, with the status “Resolved — Won't Fix”. So Larry is still Larry the Cow.

Gentoo Larry the Cow

Puppy Linux's namesake was a tiny Chihuahua whose actual name was “Puppy”. Barry Kauler, the original creator of Puppy Linux, wrote that Puppy was totally fearless and did not seem to know that he was vulnerable because of his small size. “Puppy used to chase kangaroos and other big wild animals. Anyway, Puppy Linux is like that, reckless, unshackled, in memory of the mascot, even though we know there's some risk”.

Puppy Linux

Makulu Linux features an unnamed hippo as its mascot. “Makulu” is the Zulu word for ‘figure of authority' (such as ‘Big Chief', ‘Big Mama'). That concept ties in nicely with the hippo — one of the largest and most dangerous African animals. According to Makulu's development team, “The name and logo reflects who we are; we are exotic, and we like pushing boundaries, often doing the unexpected”.


Kurumin, founded by Carlos E. Morimoto, was at one time the most popular distro in Brazil, until it was discontinued in 2008. The name's origin is Tupi; “curumim” means ‘boy' or ‘child' and alludes to an easy, simple system for beginners. The “K” at the beginning refers to Knoppix (its original base). The mascot is a childlike penguin, thinner than Tux. Another notable characteristic is the headdress with the colored feathers (which represent the Brazilian flag).


Desktop Environments and Window Managers

KDE's mascot is a friendly green dragon named “Konqi” (full name “Konqi the Konqueror”). He was named after Konqueror, KDE's default web browser. The first version of Konqi was designed by Stefan Spatz and was used from KDE version 2.x through version 4.x.

KDE Konqi

Konqi was redesigned by Tyson Tan in 2013, with a more modern look for the Plasma 5 desktop environment. Tan created the design with Krita, KDE's painting application. Tan has an immediately recognizable style that is inspired by both anime and western cartoons. He generously provides mascot designs for FOSS projects — free of charge and under a free license.

KDE Konqi (new)

Katie is the mascot of the KDE Community women's group. Although some say that she is Konqi's girlfriend, Tyson Tan's light-hearted lore indicates that she lives next door to Konqi and acts more like his younger sister.

KDE Katie

Kandalf the Wizard was KDE's mascot before Konqi. He sports a long white beard and waves a magic wand. (For some mysterious reason, there is a fish bone sticking out from the pocket of his robe). When you installed KDE, Kandalf helped customize your brand-new setup.

Kandalf the Wizard

The Xfce desktop environment has a cute female mouse named “Xue”. According to Xfce's FAQ, the logo is “a mouse, obviously, for all kinds of reasons like world domination and monsters and such.” A member of the Xfce Forum commented that “The mouse represents a fast, agile creature, and Xfce aims to put those attributes at your fingertips by way of using the (mouse) pointer”.


The mascot of the LXQt desktop environment is a hummingbird named “Helix”. Although I could not find much information about him, the logo was designed by user @Caig.

LXQt Helix

Window Maker is a window manager which reproduces the look and feel of the NeXTSTEP user interface. This project had Amanda the Panda as its mascot, designed by Agnieszka Czajkowska. She wrote that the idea for a panda bear was inspired by the black-and-white GNUstep logo (which is reproduced in the pattern of the panda's ears). Although it appears likely that Amanda has been dropped, she is still an interesting piece of mascot history.



(These are not listed in any particular order).

Although the GIMP's (GNU Image Manipulation Program) mascot has received a lot of exposure, not everyone knows that his name is “Wilber”. He somewhat resembles a fox or dog; however, Wilber is officially classified as a fictional species called a “GIMP”. Designer Tuomas Kuosmanen wanted to highlight GIMP's cool image manipulation capabilities, and have some fun by keeping users guessing as to what animal Wilber is. Kuosmanen wrote: “What a GIMP is, is sort of a joke, because people kept asking it so much: It would be so boring to say it's a dog or a fox or whatever. And when I designed the character, I did not really have any particular animal in mind”.


LyX, the document processor, has an unnamed platypus as its mascot. According to the LyX wiki, it is simply known as “The LyX”. Although the mascot's origin is unknown, a reasonable guess is that the association of a platypus to LyX is related to LyX' C++ roots. (In object-oriented programming textbooks, the platypus is sometimes associated with the concept of polymorphism).


Thunar, Xfce's default file manager, is named for the Norse God of Thunder. “Thunar” is the Old Saxon name of Thor. In several icon themes, Thunar's icon is depicted by Mjölnir, Thor's mighty hammer. Mjölnir was used to protect heaven and Earth from enemies, and was said to have been forged by a dwarf.

XFCE Thunar XFCE Mjölnir

Kiki the Cyber Squirrel (or just Kiki) serves as the mascot for Krita, KDE's painting application. A squirrel was chosen because the word “krita” means ‘squirrel' in Albanian. Designed by Tyson Tan, Kiki first appeared in 2013 on the cover of the Krita 2.6 release booklet. She travels through time/space/universes to study the works of the masters, and to enrich her life experiences for her creative endeavor.

Krita Kiki

Libbie the Cyber Oryx (or simply Libbie) was a proposed mascot, designed by Tyson Tan, and submitted to the 2017 LibreOffice mascot competition. Unfortunately, the contest was controversial because of its organization and the way that requests were handled. Although Libbie garnered the most votes in the first round, The Document Foundation eventually canceled the contest. Out of frustration, Tan decided to place Libbie in the public domain.


The TeX and LaTeX typesetting programs have an (unnamed) lion as a mascot. The TeX lion was designed for the illustrations of Donald Knuth's The TeXbook. The lion was drawn by cartoonist Duane Bibby. Leslie Lamport's LaTeX: A Document Preparation System and Knuth's The Metafont Book were also illustrated with Bibby's lions, which reinforced the brand.

Bibby described the genesis of the idea in an interview: “A possible source of the lion idea was a very large Maine Coon cat — a rather large breed of house cat — that was wandering around [our cabin]. It had been abandoned, was looking for a new home, and was giving us new arrivals the look over, trying to decide if he would adopt us. He later did …”

The TeX lion's mate is a lioness named “Meta” (like Metafont and its derivative MetaPost programming language).

Meta Meta

Donald Knuth himself remarked on the symbolism of the lions:

“One final note: People often ask me why TeX and Metafont are symbolized in these books by a lion and a lioness. When Duane Bibby first came up with the lion idea, I instinctively felt that it was right, but I never understood exactly why this was, until about a month ago when I was in the Boston Public Library. I passed by the magnificent stone lions on the library's grand staircase, and I thought: “That's it! TeX and Metafont try to be like these lions, fixtures that support a great library. I love books, and lions represent books!” No wonder I'm so happy when I realize that TeX and Metafont have already contributed to the making of several dozen books of fine quality; it makes me extremely pleased to think that this research will probably contribute to the making of many more fine books in years to come”. (p. 98b)

When Mozilla had to change its original Phoenix/Firebird logo due to a trademark dispute, they were forced to come up with an alternative. Mozilla's team decided on the name “Firefox” after adopting two red pandas (common name: ‘firefox') to raise awareness of the creature's endangered status. However, the red panda “didn't conjure up the right imagery,” so the designer began working on a concept inspired by seeing a Japanese-style brush painting of a fox. So, even though the famous web browser's name comes from the red panda, the icon depicts a fox. The fox' tail encircling the globe represents Mozilla's blazingly fast speeds and global reach.

Firefox Red Panda

The instant messaging client Pidgin (formerly named Gaim) has a purple pigeon as its mascot. The name was chosen in reference to the term “pidgin”, which describes a type of simplified language used to communicate between people who do not share a common language. “Pidgin” is a homonym for “pigeon”, so its development team took advantage of the pun to create a cartoon mascot.

The reason for the purple color is that Pidgin is based on a library named libpurple that has support for many instant messaging protocols.


The idea for GitHub's logo came from its “octopus merge” – the practice of combining three or more branches of development. The logo's designer, Simon Oxley, thought about calling his creation “Octopuss” (a portmanteau of ‘octopus' and ‘pussycat') to represent how complex code combinations can create peculiar things. But in the end, GitHub decided to go with “Octocat”. Octocat's name is Mona (Mona Lisa); it was named by the daughter of one of GitHub's developers. Mona was redesigned by illustrator Cameron McEfee in 2011.

Github Mona

(Although it is technically not software, I did not have a handy category for Wikipedia). Wikipedia held a mascot competition in 2002; it was abandoned because the community could not reach a consensus. However, the top two contenders were a “wikipede” named Kip, and an ant called the “Miwiki”. Voters liked the Kip character but criticized the idea of a centipede as “too creepy” (hence he is usually drawn with six or eight legs). The ant was popular since it presented several design alternatives, but it lacked the individuality of Kip the Wikipede.

Wikipedia Wikipede Wikipedia

Blender, the 3D computer graphics program, includes a 3D model of a chimpanzee head. The model was created by Willem-Paul van Overbruggen, who named it “Suzanne” after the orangutan in the film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001, directed by Kevin Smith). Suzanne is Blender's alternative to more common 3D test models such as the Utah teapot or the Stanford bunny. Suzanne is often used as a quick and easy way to test materials, animations, rigs, textures, and lighting setups.

Blender Suzanne

The BSDs and Other Operating Systems

“Beastie” is the generic mascot of BSD operating systems. Beastie is a slurred phonetic pronunciation of “BSD”. The character takes the form of a cartoon demon (referring to the term “software daemon”) and carries a trident (symbolizing the forking of processes). Although Beastie was first drawn by Phil Foglio (in 1976), John Lasseter's version of him became the most popular. (Lasseter is famous for writing and directing the Pixar films Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Cars and Cars 2).

BSD Beastia

There is a false rumor that the mascot's name is “Chuck”, probably because he is normally pictured wearing shoes which are similar to Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

OpenBSD's mascot is a cartoon porcupine fish named “Puffy” Puffy's external spikes symbolize OpenBSD's zealous commitment to security.

OpenBSD Puffy

DarwinOS previously existed as an independent, open-source OS (released by Apple in 2000). (Darwin is used as the base of macOS, but it cannot run macOS programs by itself). Its mascot was a platypus named “Hexley”, created by Jon Hooper. Hexley is depicted with demon horns and a trident. The original design included an apple on Hexley's fork, but Apple Inc. requested that the apple be removed for legal trademark reasons.

The name “Hexley” was proposed since Darwin's assistant was named Hexley. However, this suggestion was a mistake; they actually meant Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895), a prominent biologist in his own right. Huxley was a vociferous defender of Darwin's theories, but not his assistant. By the time the mistake was discovered, “Hexley” had escaped into the ether and DarwinOS community members felt that it was too late to change the name to Huxley.

DarwinOS Hexley

MINIX, a free Unix-like OS, was created by Dr. Andrew Tanenbaum for teaching purposes. Its mascot is a smiling raccoon named “Rocky Raccoon”. The raccoon was chosen because raccoons are small, agile, intelligent, friendly – and best of all – eat bugs (at least, when there are no garbage cans available).

MINIX Rocky Raccoon

Programming Languages

The Java programming language has “Duke” as its mascot. Duke is an amorphous blob with a large red nose. Some say that he is a Java Bean, although he was initially designed to represent a “software agent” (interactive host) that performed tasks for the user.

Duke was created by graphic artist Joe Palrang (who later worked on popular animated movies such as Shrek, Over the Hedge, and Flushed Away). Each year, Oracle released a new Duke personality, such as Scientist Duke, Adventure Duke, Astronaut Duke, etc.

Java Duke

The Python programming language is represented by two intertwined snakes. In Japan, the snakes are named “Py-chan” and “Thon-kun”. Python's author, Guido van Rossum, was a fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus; he was influenced by the humor and uniqueness of the show's name, aiming for something short and memorable. (Fun fact: In Python's documentation, spam and eggs are used instead of the common placeholder names foo and bar).

The logo was created by designer Tim Parkin. Parkin wrote that the logo is actually based on Mayan representations of snakes, which very often represent only the head and perhaps a short length of tail. The structure of the snake represents the natural coiling/nesting of a snake as seen from the side.

The snake symbolizes the power and flexibility of Python. If you squint and look at the logo slightly out of focus, you can see that the blue snake looks like a P, and the yellow snake looks like a Y. “Py” is the most widely accepted contraction of the name.

Python Py

The Rust programming language's unofficial mascot is an orange crab named “Ferris”. Some Rust users refer to themselves as “Rustaceans” — a play on the word “crustacean”. Ferris also puns off the adjective “ferrous” (‘of or pertaining to iron'). Since Rust often forms on iron, it seemed like a fun origin for the mascot's name. Ferris was first drawn by Karen Rustad Tolva. The spikes on top of the crab's shell echo the sprocket design in the official Rust logo.

Rust Ferris

Additional Information

I hope that you have enjoyed learning some trivia about the FOSS mascots discussed in this article. Due to space limitations, I only highlighted thirty-nine of them. If you would like to delve further into the mascot universe, the websites below are good starting points:

• Wikipedia's “List of computing mascots” [61 listed]
• Chl's homepage of “Free mascots” [176 listed]

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