Xenia: The Other Linux Mascot


Tux is a fat penguin chosen by Linus Torvalds to be the official brand character of the Linux kernel - The penguin was designed by Larry Ewing with an initial suggestion by Alan Cox[001]

Click for full image.

Being first made in 1991, Linux is the name of a Unix-like operating system (or strictly family of) for computers - it's a bit like Windows or even macOS, but while those two examples are (mostly) closed sourced, Linux is based upon the idea of open source and being free for everyone. Open source means that anyone is more than welcome to browse the code for the projects, even being allowed to download and make other versions of the code, depending on how liberal the owner of the product is.

Some examples of projects that have open source code are VLC media player, Blender, FireFox, and even this webpage.

As with all good projects, Linux needed a mascot, so in 1996, under the suggestion of Alan Cox, Larry Ewing made the mascot a penguin[001], being approved by Linus Torvalds (the father of Linux) soon after[003]. Much like Xenia, Tux (as seen on the right), was not given a name at first - James Hughes came up with the idea of giving them their name, suggesting to call the penguin Tux, that (fun fact) is short for Torvalds UniX[004] and also the name Tux also finds its roots in the word tuxedo as a penguin looks as if it is wearing a black tuxedoUniX[005]. Other names that people came up with was Homer, as suggested by Linus Torvalds (it was the height of The Simpsons after all).

Tux is certainly not the only mascot to be used for open source projects, but is perhaps the most well-known of them all, being used in games and even being seen in an ad for Froot Loops.

Despite Tux being approved by the creator of Linux himself, some people did not think that the fat penguin represented the over-all vibe of the community, so at least three sets of votes took place in 1996 to decide who should be the mascot of Linux[006].

Linux Fox

Linux Fox -- the mascot with 'real attitude' is an anthropomorphic fox. Anthropomorphic animals are a staple of the furry fandom. [002]

Click for full image.

At the time, furry artiest Al Mackey submitted Linux Fox, "a Linux mascot with real meaning (and real attitude)"[006] (it was the 1990s). Linux Fox (also called "LinuxFox") was described as being "designed to be the #1 competitor to a certain cute and cuddly penguin. The penguin is nice and all, but it doesn't really remind me[, Al Mackey,] of a lean and mean multitasking/networking machine. LinuxFox, on the other hand, is clearly a hard-core Linux coder. :-)"[007].

Linux Fox did not do well in the contest, coming up in third place, getting 280 votes[006], getting beaten by Matt Ericson's design that was simply just the word "Linux" with the "i" being replaced with a lightbulb.

In the end, Tux became the mascot for Linux and open source as a whole while Linux Fox would become forgotten as time passed -- and that's all but it for the 1990s, after this time, Linux Fox was not heard from again in a long time. Linux Fox was seen on a t-shirt of artwork showing Nervick, a fursona of Tomas Manley in 1997[008] made by Al Mackey, but apart from this, that was it -- there was seemingly no other fan artwork made of the anthropomorphic fox at the time and talk of Linux Fox altogether.

Time would pass and people moved on - Al Mackey would start work at HP in June 1998 to June 2000, moving to Virage in October 2000 to August 2002[009]. At the same time, they carried on making art and music, even selling a CD-ROM that boasted about having "over 200 pictures by ATM himself, including several items unreleased anywhere else. Also, over one hour of music, local versions of two web-games, and a tutorial of Photoshop techniques"[010].

As noted at the start, the popularity of Tux (at least in the Linux community) would become well-known, being seen in many a free software game.

Linux Fox

As posted by finley[011], this would be the first artwork showing Linux Fox in over 20 years - at this time, she had not yet been publicaly named as Xenia.

The 2020s

23 years after the (nerdy) world saw Linux Fox, nothing happened (or at least nothing happened that was documented), until in 2020 when finley of @cathodegaytube's girlfriend showed her Linux Fox, as finley is an illastrator, she drew her own interpataion of the fox, mostly keeping to the desine of the original 1990s-look Al had givern to them - an interesting misundertanding that finley made was mistaking the fox to be female, writng that "apparently the Linux mascot was almost a cool fox girl and everyone seems to have forgotten about her, so naturally i drew her!"[011]

At the sametime, finley had been in contact with Al Mackey via E-Mail. In a Twitter thread showing the new artwork, finley showed screenshots of Al talking about Linux Fox and how that finley's girlfriend, Amy Wright of @AmyWrightDev, decided to rename Linux Fox to Xenia:

The fox was intended to be male, although certainly drawn fairly androgynously.. But to me your interpretation of her as female actually makes a lot of sense, especially in the context of time. It matches the transitions of a lot of the smartest, nerdiest Linux users I know.

And sure, you made her trans! Yes, feel free to run down these emails too. Xenia seems like a very appropriate name. I just read Stephen Fry's Mythos and he has a lot to say about the ancient Greek concept of Xenia. What a weird coincidence.

Anoter intresting deverment of this thread was that we got to findout that the original 1996 drawing was made on an Amiga (a family of PCs introduced by Commodore that would be discontinued also in 1996) on a mouse (a lot of artiests prefer using something such as a digital drawing tablet today) and that Al's brother, Ed, "who was more involved with Linux at the time, was the one tht[sic] prompted [Al] to enter the contest"[012].

References & other information

001: Linux 2.0 Penguins
Background added by numbers - thank you

002: biglinuxfox.gif

003: Linux Logos and Mascots

004: Re: Let's name the penguin! (was: Re: Linux 2.0 really _is_ released..)

005: Why Is The Penguin Tux Official Mascot of Linux? Because Torvalds Had Penguinitis!

006: Penguins and Other Things (Quoth the Walrus)

007: But Penguins aren't even Furry!

008: Nervick

009: Alan T. Mackey's résumé/CV/curriculum vitae

010: Al Mackey CD Archive
ED NOTE: It would be cool if someone were to dumb the contents of this CD-ROM onto the Web

011: so apparently the Linux mascot was almost a cool fox girl...

012: with the permission of alan mackey himself, i'd like to present to y'all the linux fox herself: Xenia!

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Copyright 2021 - by Cass "Owly" Python, licensed under the FOPL-MDP.