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May 20th, 2015

The Day Linux Crashed

OK, class, open your history books.

The end of May usually brings many people’s attention toward Indianapolis, home of the Colts, Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), and a 500-mile race on a 2.5-mile rectangular track affectionately known to those who follow auto racing as “the Brickyard.”

As a greenhorn Linux newbie eight springs ago, I happened upon an article on LXer about this guy in Texas who had an idea on how to promote Linux. Oh, it was a crazy idea all right, but thinking about it at the time, it was one that might…just…work. For the Indianapolis 500 in 2007, the idea — this crazy plan — was to put Linux on the side and nose of a car, and while penguins couldn’t fly, they still could go just over 220 and turn left.

Linux & Tux at the Indianapolis 500

On paper, the plan was flawless: Chastain Racing and Tux would lap the track 200 times and, with a little luck, take the checkered flag…
Official Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo, 2007
Click to enlarge

So Tux 500 was put in the works. I ponied up a meager amount and asked if I could help. I had just finished a political campaign and, as a newspaper editor, I had some media skills that might be of help. He gladly accepted.

The effort fell short of its goal amount, thanks in part to some resistance in what can best be described as painfully myopic loudmouths in the FOSS realm at the time (to be diplomatic, we can just leave it at that). However, there was enough money raised for the blue car, the number 77 of Chastain Racing driven by Brazilian Roberto Moreno, to sport the word “Linux” and a picture of Tux on the nose.

To be fair, the number 77 car was not a favorite to win the race. In fact, Moreno started from the eleventh row — the last row — after just barely qualifying. But most of that was irrelevant: Linux was out there. Tux 500 was highlighted prominently in eleven major newspapers, dozens of minor ones, two major non-tech magazines, and dozens of non-Linux/tech publications on paper and across the web.

On several levels, Tux and Linux were “in the race.”

In one of the greater ironies of all time, Moreno was the first driver out of the race that year. He crashed on lap 36 — insert your own “Linux crashes” joke here — and the quest for the finish line unceremoniously ended, as did any efforts behind Tux 500.

Nonetheless, the end of May always makes me think of what might have been in Indianapolis eight Memorial Days ago. That Texan with the crazy idea, of course, was my friend and colleague Ken Starks, who was the spark plug and driving force — sorry, I couldn’t resist — behind the Tux 500 effort.

After Tux 500 and the Lindependence 2008 project — where he and I piloted a program introducing Linux to the town of Felton, California, in July of that year — Ken went from acting globally to acting locally, where he has made a huge difference in the lives of literally hundreds of kids and adults over the last several years in Texas with the HeliOS Project, which became Reglue.

So in 2007, Linux and Tux didn’t take first place. But since then, it has been nothing but win for FOSS in so many ways and in so many venues.

Class dismissed.

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Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

5 comments to The Day Linux Crashed

  • Those were the days my friend…..

    Ken had that right. Linux needs a huge public presence
    to make the mainstream users of computers wake up.
    Maybe a TV show where the geeky stars are waxing
    enthusiastic about their OS? Or one of those impossibly
    talented action stars could beat the bad guys about the
    head and shoulders with his Linux powered laptop?
    A trucking company… Linux Lines Its all about the up
    time. Maybe a band….never mind.

    Larry, what is running those computers that the racing
    world uses?

  • […] El día en que chocó Linux (eng) […]

  • What a great homage to a great idea and effort! I remember that well since I’m a bit of a “motorhead”. I still have and use my Tux500 coffee mug.

    I also remember with a certain amount of irritation the cynics and “nay sayers” who tried to crush the idea. I hope those people wound up in jobs where they had to maintain Windows systems and users with plenty of ID10T and PEBKAC errors.

    Anyhow, Larry, thanks for remembering.

    And thank you Ken for giving the Linux true believers a chance to promote Linux in a dramatic public forum.

  • cybergal

    Still have my T-shirt, links to some of the articles of the day, and a VHS recording which I taped while watching the race. Sure, it was a long-shot that we could win but, if you’re going to dream, might as well dream big! And didn’t Tux look fantastic on the hood?!

  • Laxator2

    I remember back in 2002, MS started to put large, 2-page ads in PC Magazine, saying things long the lines “Windows offers better total cost of ownership than Linux”.

    And I remember other people at the magazines stand asking “What’s Linux ?”. I don’t think MS could have done a better job at promoting Linux than those ads.