Linux Distro Numbers Differ, Depend on Metrics

Red Hat can claim it is the top distributor of Linux software. But the Debian Project can retort that it is really the leading distributor because it is the fastest-growing outfit in the Linux market.

Which organization is right?

That depends on one’s source of information.

A report by research firm International Data Corp. reckons that Red Hat accounts for 60 percent of the Linux server market.

But another recent report by contradicts IDC’s findings, saying Debian’s version of Linux is actually the “fastest growing” distribution of the software and, by inference, the current most-popular distribution.

Conflicting Report

“Over the last six months, Debian has been the fastest-growing Linux distribution when measured by counting active sites which contain the name of a Linux distribution in the Apache Server header,” according to the January 2004 report by, based in Bath, England.

“In percentage terms, Debian is closely followed by SuSE and Gentoo. RedHat has a far greater number of sites but a slower growth rate, and actually fell this month after making widely publicized and controversial changes to its licensing and security update policy. A distribution name is present in a little over a quarter of Linux-based Apache sites,” the report noted.

The report also presented the following facts:

  • Debian has grown at a 24.6 percent rate, from 355,468 site installations last July to 442,752 in January 2004.
  • Red Hat has grown at a 17.8 percent rate, from 1,231,986 site installations in July 2003 to 1,451,505 site installations last month.
  • Germany-based Linux developer SuSE also outpaced Red Hat, growing 23.2 percent during the same period, from 240,411 installations to 296,217 site installations.

How Red Hat Differs

But some industry insiders noted that the growth of Red Hat is a different kind of expansion than that experienced by the Debian Project.

“Commercial versions of Linux are taking the corporate part of the market,” Steve Friedberg, a storage-industry observer working in public relations, told LinuxInsider in an interview.[*correction] “They want the customer support. It’s less of a let’s-get-it-for-free mentality than a we-know-we’ll-need-support mindset.”

Indeed, the Web site for the Debian Project indicates the organization is not a true commercial enterprise, but a self-described “association” of individuals who have developed the Debian GNU Linux software.

Driving Up Costs?

The association provides links on its sites to consultants who can provide support for users, but it does not directly support the software or commercially partner with those who do. This strategy, some analysts have said, actually could drive up the cost of “free” software over time.

Red Hat, by contrast, continues to pursue deals to offer end-to-end support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux users.

Sunnyvale, California-based Hyperion software exclusively told LinuxInsider that it will disclose it is forging a deal with Red Hat to support Red Hat in the “business intelligence for the enterprise” market.

Users seek not only open standards, said Red Hat, but also reliability, flexibility and performance as they consider Linux for the enterprise.

Total Cost of Ownership

“Business intelligence and business performance management applications are critical in the enterprise,” Deb Woods, a vice president at Red Hat, told LinuxInsider.

“We are excited that Hyperion will address this application space on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform,” said Woods. “Our joint customers will benefit from the quality and value of this integrated solution.”

Such deals are said to reduce the total cost of ownership of Red Hat software.

One commercial user of Red Hat’s version of Linux agreed.

“We are moving toward the Linux platform because it is a cost-effective platform to deploy broadly,” Patrick Leplat, CIO of Switzerland-based RCI Finance, told LinuxInsider. “The associated cost savings are important to our company.”

*Editor’s Correction Note: In the original version of this article, we incorrectly identified Steve Friedberg as a spokesperson for We apologize for the error.

No Comments

  • These facts are even more twisted than the article suggests. If a distro starts with 1 user and gets 2 that is a 100% increase, are they the most popular?
    Red Hat has 60% of the user base out of an estimated 18-20 million linux users, for them to match %50 that means 6 million new users in 6 months? That’s absurd. They had a 90% renual rate for subscriptions and a 27% increase of new subscribers. Success is measured by the pocketbook not in apache banners which are changed by most people to avoid OS detection techniques. The machines that still have banners are likely to be unconfigured meaning, some guy at home who doesn’t know his webserver is on. Admins are not as dim

  • It doesn’t even really matter when it comes down to it. Comparing debian and red hat is apples and oranges. They are two completely different markets. Debian is for those who know what they are doing, Red Hat is for those who don’t. If you know what you are doing, you don’t need support. If you don’t know what you are doing, you need support. But besides that, general purpose linux distributions share over 95% of the same software. I don’t think people realize this. They usually only differ in versions of that software, how that software is configured, or software they have written themselves (which usually accounts for like 1-2% of the software). "The Enterprise level community" have to be the biggest idiots when it comes to linux. They are so used to licensing terms, support contracts, etc. etc. they think of distributions in the wrong terms all together. I don’t think they will ever get it. Linux distributions differ so little at their core, if you stripped out all references to it, it would hard to tell which is which. At that point, only the init script style would tell…

    • I think it is you who doesn’t understand them. Not how they don’t understand linux. Busineses want support not only cause its cheaper to give the job to someone who already does it, but because they have someone to blame, and something to fall back on.
      Linux distro’s are not all the same either, take Debian for instance, isn’t stable kernel 2.4.4 or something while Red Hat has 2.4.24 with many 2.6 features backported nobody has yet like NPTL. Thier kernels handle large load and huge performance increases due to that back porting. Debian uses RH software like Anaconda, Kudzu, Exec-shield and soon NPTL all written by Red Hat. Businesses want the source of the innovation not the ‘community’ getting it second hand. You can manage many machines for RHN, Quality certifications, google buys from Red Hat, Amazon, so you know it works for big names. These are things busineses look at closely.

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