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Don’t Kill the Penguin!!

Naming, Again

Frank J. Ohlhorst of CRN recently published “Advice To Linux: Kill The Penguin,” which may seem in line with my recent comments about product and project naming. (Thanks for the tip off to reader Ray Epping!)

Ohlhorst is missing something hugely important, but he does raise a solid point or two. Let me give him credit first, then see whether I can defend the use of our beloved Tux and dole out some justice.

Ohlhorst’s point about the name YaST is fair. I would say that the name “YaST” is a good project name, and a bad end-user interface name. Even if we’re talking about administrators when we say “end user.”

This concession may worry some of my SUSE colleagues, and since I will be seeing many of them next week, allow me to start disclaiming.

I am not advocating that we immediately change YaST’s name. In fact, does it make sense to change a name that is already very well established in your user base? If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, then perhaps not.

Friendlier...but not a complete fix.The point I advocated in my original post was that we should watch out for such obtuse names when we first integrate a project like YaST into a distribution. After several years of becoming an establishe

d name, renaming will stir emotions. That’s why we have to look ahead before a non-intuitive name becomes so well established that you cannot change it. Should we rename YaST? I say, “no.”

A final note, there are ways of handling this kind of thing. If you look in SLED10’s Application Browser, you will find that YaST is accompanied by a user-firendly description (as shown in the graphic at right).

The name GIMP just plain sucks. From a user accessibility angle, you simply cannot defend it. It’s worse than “YaST” because the term “gimp” is burdened with way too much negativity. Add to that that it is a nested acronym (the G is for GNU, and try explaining all the ins and outs of the GNU acronym to a new Linux user), and you have too many levels of inside jokes. (Actually, they’re not even inside jokes….)

The GIMP's shadowReader Travis Reitter posted a comment to me about how bad the name “GIMP” is, asking me to give my thoughts on it. GIMP is really good software. I use it for the screenshots I post. GIMP is one of the few application projects that has enough of a community that they can even hold a summit. Perhaps the GIMP community will consider a better name at some point. Or, they may take a defiant “to hell with the critics” stance

about the name. Whichever happens, while the name may be bad, the project leads and the GIMP community rightly own that decision.

Despite the unfortunate name, since it is not a project lead by Novell, I am pleased that we use the currently correct name “The GIMP,” and simply add a user friendly descriptor (once again shown at right).

TuxNow, allow me to differ strongly with Ohlhorst on his condemnation of Tux the Penguin, because Ohlhorst misses very important details about the use of the penguin.

This friendly-looking penguin softens the name Linux. (And let’s face it, “Linux” is not really so great a name for bringing in non-techies). Tux looks playful. He looks unthreatening. He looks approachable. He looks fun! Don’t those sentiments help dispel some of the stigma about Linux being difficult and unfriendly?
More importantly, brands are personal. While many may feel discomfort at my calling Linux a brand, I stick to that. It’s not a traditional one-company brand, but it is a brand nevertheless. Other operating systems have brands as well. An apple with a bite out of it? A four-colored window frame that appears to wave in the wind? I say that these are recognized in much the same way as a pair of golden arches. The shape and color of stop signs are all but internationalized because humans recognize pictures faster than they do text.

Tux gives Linux a common identity. I may fly the flag of a chameleon rather than a red fedora, but we unify under a common penguin. If you have ever struck up a conversation with someone after seeing Tux on their t-shirt or something, then you know exactly what I am talking about. I maintain that Tux allows us to recognize each other. Rather than deterring newcomers, Tux creates solidarity among the Linux community. You can even argue that a rich icon like Tux has helped to build our community, which has allowed us to advocate Linux more effectively. In short, Tux gives Linux identity. (Atkins has a lot to say about this concept in The Culting of Brands.)

Kill the Penguin? No, Mr. Olhorst, you chose a bad example with that one.

6 Responses

  1. Thank you for raising this issue.There is good intent on both sides of the discussion so far.

    For issues like the name of Gimp, a possible way to meet the marketing needs is to fork a path with a renamed Gimp being the main (only?) difference. Possibly useful to test this on a lesser star first to bugtest the process.


  2. First of all, excuse me if my english is not good enough but I’m not a native english speaker. That said, let me ask you: What is going to happen when the Linux kernel dies? We don’t have to kill it, it’s going to die because of the way it’s built. We can handle a change of kernel, if the hurd was finished, but what would happen to the “brand” feeling you point at?

    Would there be any point in calling the system “Linux”, should we callit “Hurd”? No, my friend. Our sistem is GNU, and we’ll have to switch to a more flexible kernel in the future if we want a Free operating system to exist. So I don’t just say “kill the penguin”, I say “revive the GNU”.

  3. Well said, especially the point about Tux.

  4. […] “Reverend Ted”, aka Ted Haeger, a SUSE barnstormer working for Novell, is actually reasonably rational. He suggests that, yes, YAST isn’t really a good name for SUSE’s do-everything systems management tool, but that it is too late to change it without stirring the “emotions” of current SUSE users. […]

  5. As IT professional and a proponent of opensource solutions of all kinds, I disagree that the business world’s slow adoption of linux has anything to do with names, icons, and mascots.

    Rather, it has to do with ignorance, fear, marketing, and loathing. Though they are slowly coming around, the corporate world is generally ingorant of the benefits of opensource (stability, security, freedom of choice, etc.). The ones who have the authority to make the decision to switch, fear the perceived risk. “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” . . .or Microsoft. While Microsoft is only mediocre as a technology company, they are phenominal as a marketing firm (although some of their methods are questionable.) Finally, the corporate world absalutely loathes change.

    I’ve recently seen a glimmer of hope at my place of employment, and I have Microsoft to thank for pricing themselves right out the door.

  6. I recently tried to show my girlfriend how to navigate around my gnome desktop. That was quite the experience. She was flabbergasted at the application names littered almost everywhere across the entire menu of applications.

    Let me list the ‘Multimedia’ -> ‘Music’ menu:

    GNU Solfege
    Helix Banshee
    JACK Rack

    Ok, now seriously can you tell me what a single one of those applications does by its name…. Maybe you know about banshee and a few others but unless you like to torture yourself, I bet you can’t identify too many. Go ahead and prove me wrong, but every name up there (including Helix Banshee) does not work for people in general and me imparticular.

    Now if came to your door and said that I have this great new operating system that you can have FOR FREE and it includes these great applications (above list) would you buy it? Even at that price?

    My point is that although Linux (suse) may have many technical advantages there are some serious usage/usability issues to contend with. The Marketing guys need to put their foot down and say that this is simply not acceptable. Just like ‘Programmer Art’ is replaced with ‘Artist Art’; ‘programmer names’ must be replaced with ‘Marketable names’.

    And for Pete’s sake, please rename yast.

    -Ted Bullock
    Software Engineering Student
    University of Calgary

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