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The Surprisingly Juicy Desktop Linux Market Share Report

By Katherine Noyes
Jan 16, 2012 5:00 AM PT

There's no doubt the Linux world has seen its share of good news over the past year or so, but every once in a while a tidbit comes along that calls for a little extra fanfare.

The Surprisingly Juicy Desktop Linux Market Share Report

Case in point: Recent data from research firm Net Applications suggests that desktop Linux's market share has jumped considerably over the past few months.

Want specifics? Here goes: The company's NetMarketShare service just recently reported that Linux's market share on the desktop has steadily increased since the summer, going from 0.97 percent in July to a new high of 1.41 percent last month.

Other data sources have long reported more than the nagging "1 percent" figure for some time already, of course, but to see news like this from none other than Net Applications itself? Well, it's pretty exciting.

Is the Year of Desktop Linux finally upon us? That's what bloggers far and wide have been struggling to figure out.

'100 Percent per Annum'

"I've been keeping an eye on Net Applications in particular because they have been the most conservative of the multi-site stats available, and if things are moving there, then something must really be happening," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl.

Even more remarkable than the actual numbers, though, is the rate of increase, blogger Robert Pogson pointed out.

"It's about 100 percent per annum," he explained. "I reported on this months ago and the trend continues."

'Millions of New Installations'

As for a cause, Pogson says he hasn't been able to find one.

"It could be that widespread use of GNU/Linux in BRIC countries' educational system has caused usage to spread to the general population, because the trend started when school was out in many countries," he suggested.

"It could also be some Dell/Ubuntu machines selling in stores in China -- perhaps NetApplications has a partner in China...," he mused.

Either way, "it is great fun to see NetApplications, usually with the lowest numbers on the planet, finally reflect the dramatic growth we see in the real world," Pogson concluded. "In terms of numbers of PCs, this reflects millions of new installations or new PCs with GNU/Linux annually."

'Any Increase Is a Good Thing'

Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site, was similarly cheered by the report.

"Lies, damn lies, and statistics ... who can say what the real numbers are just from web browser stats?" Hudson began. "A more likely source of numbers would be from linux machines that hit the update servers, but even that is fraught with error, this time on the down side, both for boxes that don't get counted because they are updated from a locally cloned copy of the repositories, and ones that don't get updated between releases."

Still, "any increase is a Good Thing, because it means a more diverse ecosystem, and the more people try different things, the more likely those around them are going to as well, so an uptick in the numbers is welcome news," she concluded.

'3 Percent by the End of 2012'

Indeed, "one of the huge issues in measuring desktop Linux is finding a way to sample it, and determining what a representative sample is," agreed Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. "This is hardly a trivial question and therefore it's not at all surprising that there is a great deal of difference between some sources."

To wit: "Using figures from StatCounter Global Stats, Linux Market share in July 2011 was 0.79 percent and for December 2011 it was 0.83 percent," noted Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.

"The Net Applications statistics, on the other hand, show a steady gain," he added. "Assuming the increase from 0.97 percent in July 2011 to 1.41 percent in December 2011 is a trend, then we should see Linux with an over 2 percent market share by June this year, and 3 percent by the end of 2012. Those would be some serious numbers."

Ultimately, "I am not sure how much stock should be placed on reports of market share data about Web browsers, operating systems, search engines, and the like," Lim concluded. "I generally think they are reliable, but data needs to be tracked for long periods of time. I will be keeping my fingers crossed and watch how things develop over the next year."

'That Gets Old REAL Quick'

Similarly, the big question is whether the trend will continue, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told Linux Girl.

"After all, yours truly ran Linux exclusively on his laptop for nearly two years...until i got tired of things breaking," he explained.

"The initial install of Linux is fine and dandy -- in fact, it's better than it's ever been," hairyfeet asserted. "The sad part is Linux has adopted the Windows 'You must ALWAYS install clean or enjoy the breakage,' which wouldn't be bad if we were talking once every 5 years but every 6 months? That gets old REAL quick."

'These Numbers Will Only Increase'

Still, "Linux has a significant long-term advantage over traditional desktop operating systems in terms of flexibility and an ability of a consultant to install systems which are designed around user needs," Travers pointed out.

"While Apple and Microsoft are all working hard to break current paradigms, Linux and only Linux offers a choice of user interface paradigms," he explained. "This is a huge factor because it means that many users, when they choose to migrate, will eventually feel more comfortable with Linux than with future versions of the operating systems they are on, so these numbers will only increase, perhaps dramatically."

Of course, "given how long consumer and business upgrade cycles are, I don't think this will happen within a given year, but will instead be a surprisingly gradual process," Travers concluded.

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.

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