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The Problem With Estimating Linux Desktop Market Share 409

Posted by timothy
from the something-about-lying-and-statistics dept.
jammag writes "It's long been one of those exceptionally hard-to-quantify numbers: exactly what percentage of the desktop PC market is held by Linux? Doubters suggest it hovers around a negligible one percent, while partisans suggest it's in excess of 10 percent. Bruce Byfield explores the various sources of estimates, dismissers' and fan boys' alike, and guesstimates it might realistically be 5-6%. Still, he admits, 'the objectivity of numbers is often just a myth.'"
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The Problem With Estimating Linux Desktop Market Share

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  • Guesstimates? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FredFredrickson (1177871) * on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:41AM (#27829781) Homepage Journal
    Estimates are already a form of guessing. The word 'guesstimate' make me want to puke blood.
  • by FudRucker (866063) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:43AM (#27829819)
    since most all Linux distros can be downloaded anonymously for free from many servers/mirrors around the world there is no way of knowing for sure...
  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Akido37 (1473009) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:44AM (#27829827)

    Estimates are already a form of guessing. The word 'guesstimate' make me want to puke blood.

    When I was in school, I was taught that an estimate was the same as rounding (As opposed to an "educated guess").

    Now, every time I hear the word estimate, I assume that the number started from some actual data, rather than from someone's rectum.

  • While you may claim it prevents the self-fulfilling "tipping point" of everyone switching to it because everyone else is using it, I have no complaints with Microsoft and Apple thinking that they have nothing to worry about from Linux until it's too late. What do big dogs do when small dogs start to threaten their dominance? They try to kill them. I actually prefer the "slowly but surely until it's too late" scenario.
  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sopssa (1498795) <sopssa@email.com> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:44AM (#27829835) Journal

    The main problem with linux desktop usage is that all the games are made for Windows (some of them also work on Macs). I for one cant change to use linux as desktop, even if I want to and use it as server, because I like to play the games aswell (no, the freeware games on linux dont count for obvious reasons).

    Problem is that game developers neither want to develop games for linux because it doesnt have enough users, and hence it goes round and round.

    So the question is, how could we get the gaming market to linux aswell?

  • by corsec67 (627446) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:45AM (#27829839) Homepage Journal

    Plus that one download could be used to install an unlimited number of computers, so even counting people that complete the download might not be correct.

  • Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:49AM (#27829911) Journal

    Go out on the street. Talk to about 1000 people. Ask them what operating system they have on their home computer.

    My prediction on the results

    Huh?: 45%
    Windows: 25%
    No Computer: 20%
    Mac: 8%
    Linux: 2%

  • Re:Easy solution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by downix (84795) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:58AM (#27830053) Homepage

    Mine would be:

    Windows: 35%
    Mac: 9%
    Dell: 3%
    IBM: 4%
    What's an Operating System?: 40%
    Linux: 2%
    I don't have a computer: the rest.

  • by geoffrobinson (109879) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:02AM (#27830119) Homepage

    If you took reports from major websites (Google, ESPN, Yahoo, MSN, etc, etc), I think that would be the best metric for filling in any gaps.

    That would give you a percentage of an OS actually used.

    Oh, numbers are objective. But raw facts do not come with their own correct interpretation.

  • say, for or against gun control

    and both sides trot out numbers, facts, that support their assertions

    when the truth of course is that various quantities out of context can be twisted or misunderstood as to meaning

    simply put, when dealing in the hard sciences, numbers rule. but when you get into politics, religion, sociology: numbers mean shit

    but try telling this to a committed partisan when you debate them on various issues. they take your avoidance of numbers and their dubious meaning as some sort of implicit admission of defeat

    when in reality, the issues are one of logic, reason, and principles, not bullshit numbers and their essential uselessness in supporting what you think they support

  • by onion2k (203094) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:04AM (#27830159) Homepage

    It's the analysts who are (probably) underestimating Linux. You can be absolutely certain that both MSFT and AAPL are very aware of their competition. They'll both have labs full of Linux installs (plus OSX and Windows respectively) where they examine what new things are added, old things removed, what's fixed and what's left broken. These are companies with billion dollar budgets. Spending maybe a million (20 staff plus a big office) to research your competition is obvious.

  • Desktop hours (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:05AM (#27830173)

    Just to add a little more confusion:

    The folks I know who use Windows at home, and there a lot of them, don't tend to use their computers very much. The folks who use Linux at home use their computers a lot.

    One way to estimate the number of desktops is to use web statistics. Since each Linux desktop is probably used twice as much as each Windows desktop, the net based statistics probably over-state the number of Linux desktops.

    On the other hand, a seldom used Windows box really isn't very important in the grand scheme of things, is it? Because of what they are used for and how long they are used, Linux boxes are probably much more important or consequential than Windows boxen.

    Discuss.

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:08AM (#27830201)
    Exactly. If I see someone I can estimate their height and weight. If all I know is your name, all I can do is guess based on sex, nationality, averages, etc.
  • by Rary (566291) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:08AM (#27830205)

    Plus that one download could be used to install an unlimited number of computers, so even counting people that complete the download might not be correct.

    Plus there's people like me who download multiple different releases of multiple different distributions just to try them out, or to use them on servers, but still use Windows on the desktop.

  • Re:Confusion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by value_added (719364) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:14AM (#27830305)

    Sadly the article seems to confuse install share and market share, not just confusing the phrases, but using them concepts interchangeably.

    I'd go farther. The term "market" is sufficiently ambiguous and using it invites all sorts of connotations that simply aren't applicable, or are relevant only in narrowly-defined circumstances. For the vast majority of downloads and installations, there is no money changing hands so there is no "market".

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:27AM (#27830515) Journal
    I'm no fan of the GPL, but this is just plain nonsense. If you use a GPL'd library on Windows (or OS X), then your game engine has to be GPL'd too. It's true, but completely irrelevant. Linux is GPL'd, but from the point of view of an application developer, this is completely irrelevant because you don't link against the kernel directly. Things like X.org, and all of the OpenGL stuff are all MIT licensed, SDL is LGPL'd, and so on. It is trivially easy to develop on Linux and *BSD without using any GPL'd libraries.
  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Exitar (809068) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:29AM (#27830543)

    Except that gamers are usually more interested in *playing* games that in writing and/or porting them.

  • by noundi (1044080) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:30AM (#27830549)

    While you may claim it prevents the self-fulfilling "tipping point" of everyone switching to it because everyone else is using it, I have no complaints with Microsoft and Apple thinking that they have nothing to worry about from Linux until it's too late. What do big dogs do when small dogs start to threaten their dominance? They try to kill them. I actually prefer the "slowly but surely until it's too late" scenario.

    Fair analogy, although, while we're doing animal analogies, I would look at MS or Apple as the "big dogs" and Linux as a shitload of bees holding the (important but not cruical) hive together. The difference being that even if a bee is lost, or even the hive itself, it's not over, whilst the dog is one.

  • Ask Google (Score:3, Insightful)

    by berpi (1187131) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:47AM (#27830805)
    No, really. They know.
  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Toby_Tyke (797359) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:51AM (#27830887) Journal
    1) Commercial developers don't understand the license--GPL and others.

    2) Microsoft created a series of "lock in" technologies.


    Whilst I'm sure both of those play a part, they are by no means the main reason. After all, if MS lock-in was such a huge obstacle to porting games across platforms, the 360 would have more system exclusives. There is a far more simple reason why there are so few commercial Linux games. Market share.

    Not market share in the conventional sense though. Let me explain.

    Generic Blockbuster Games inc are planning to release their new game, Mediocre First Person Shooter VII: The Shootening, this summer,and are considering investing in porting it to Linux. Is this worthwhile? Only if the investment will bring in more revenue, by selling more copies. Now on the face of it, sure it would, because Linux has, according to TFA, 2.5 percent of the desktop market. If GBG port MFPS VII, they can all buy it, right? Wrong.

    For a start, only hardcore gamers with expensive rigs can play the latest games, so only a sub-set of the 2.5 percent are potential customers. Now, ask yourself a question. How many hardcore gamers with expensive gaming rigs do you know who only play games with native Linux versions?

    You yourself are playing a game with no Linux version. How would NCsoft have stood to make any more money from you by providing a windows version of Guild Wars?

    30 million Linux users are irrelevant. The potential market for Linux video games is vanishingly small, if you discount the people who would buy the windows version in the absence of a linux port.
  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:09AM (#27831163)

    Hint: "estimate" != "approximate"

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mR.bRiGhTsId3 (1196765) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:15AM (#27831249)
    I believe there is another phenomenon at work that you didn't mention. In my experience, Linux users will shy away from the latest, most powerful hardware for the simple fact that it is less likely to work properly or be fully supported. Afterall, what point is there in gettign the absolute latest NVidia card with 512MB ram and however many bajillion stream processors they have these days when it isn't going to work particularly well. For years the message I always heard was "Go Intel, it'll mostly work." Intel can't run demanding games though.
  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:16AM (#27831265)

    you dont need to understand free licences - there's nothing to stop you releasing proprietary software that runs on linux.

    That's the part that publishers don't understand!

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houstonbofh (602064) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:17AM (#27831277)

    If you are more interested in playing than in linux, then linux is not your OS. Linux (and OSS in general) is to scratch an itch, to do it yourself, and it has not yet enough people to support the next layer of users.

    No, Linux is a tool. For you it is a tool to scratch an itch. The problem is that many developers feel that they way they want to use a tool is the way that everyone should use that tool. This is not just a Linux problem, by the way... But you will notice that the most successful software projects (or products) actively try to find out what itches others.

  • by woboyle (1044168) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:18AM (#27831287)
    I somehow suspect these numbers (1% Linux market penetration, and such) are for systems that are shipped with the OS pre-installed by the manufacturer. That would seem about right to me. However, many systems cannot be ordered without MS Windows of some sort pre-installed, yet people remove that and install Linux, or dual-boot their systems with Linux. Even my grandson, who got a Windows system last year (my old Dell D600) switched from Windows to Linux after his Windows system disc blew up, and he is LOVING it! So, my best guestimate about actual market penetration of Linux is probably about 5-6%. It seems about right to me. Right now, I only have 2 programs that I must use which are Windows-only, so I mostly run Windows in a VM on a 64-bit Linux host. I have just installed Ubuntu on my laptop and will only run Windows in a VM there as well, as soon as I finish setting it up. Even my bluetooth wireless headset and Skype work fine on the Jaunty Jackalope (Ubuntu 9.04)!
  • by Proteus (1926) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:23AM (#27831401) Homepage Journal

    you dont[sic] need to understand free licences[sic] - there's nothing to stop you releasing proprietary software that runs on linux.

    That's true, but unfortunately beside the point. Many product managers and the like have such confusion over the terms of the GPL that they believe any software they write to run on a GPL'd platform (like Linux) must also have a free license.

    Or, at the very least, they believe that they'll be sued into releasing the source code.

    It doesn't really matter that their perception is a fiction: unless people who already have these managers' attention can make a convincing case ("convincing" in the PHB sense, not the reasonable-person sense), the perception won't change. And there won't be as much commercial software for Linux.

    This results in the wonderfully circuitous circumstance that consumers don't adopt Linux because the games/etc. they want aren't available for it; and those games don't get ported to Linux because there's no market share.

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by asdir (1195869) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:24AM (#27831427)
    Actually, you can also estimate based on sex, nationality and other averages. Imagine making a regression of many people, randomly sampled, with different heigths, sex, nationality and so on. The resulting coefficients would be called "estimates". Based on those, you might try to make a prediction based on the variables you know of a person apart from the name, like sex, nationality, and so on. Since this prediction is based on estimates, it could also be called an estimate.
    What I am trying to say here is, that as long as you have a method which objectifies (yes, according to my professors that's a real word) your results, it is not guessing, but estimating. Pure guessing would be without method and therefore unscientific. However, that does not prevent an estimate from being wrong and a guess from being right.
    Based on this, a guesstimate would be something, which follows a method up to a point, but is thrown together with something guessed, like assumed data (bad!) or a theory based on guesswork (acceptable qua falsifiable).
  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by someone1234 (830754) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:51AM (#27831927)

    Linus did it, and i'm eternally grateful for it.

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:52AM (#27831941) Journal

    I bet the number is only 1/10th as large as Apple's MacOS share.

    Last I heard that's somewhere around 10%, so figure 1% for long term Linux users. The reason I suspect it's so low is because many, many people have TRIED Linux but few have stayed with the habit. Just like marijuana. (ducks a spitball). I had Linux on one of my laptops, but I wiped it with the original XP Restore CD. Counting me as a "Linux user" simply because I tried it last month would be a mistake, but I suspect it's a common one made by many estimators.

  • by plague3106 (71849) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:53AM (#27831955)

    That's true, but unfortunately beside the point. Many product managers and the like have such confusion over the terms of the GPL that they believe any software they write to run on a GPL'd platform (like Linux) must also have a free license.

    Well, it does. Not because of the GPL, but because of those pushing the GPL that insist everything must be open source. It's not good enough a company releases binary linux drivers, no, these people insist that the drivers be open source as well, or they refuse to use it.

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by A.K.A_Magnet (860822) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:57AM (#27832007) Homepage
    Unfortunately this will be buried in the mass of posts, but I'll go anyway.

    If a game developer releases his game for Mac and Linux as well, maybe that's 10% market share but it's not the same market share! It's really disappointing to see this fact so often overlooked. Because not all users are the same. Mac and Linux users are DYING to play games. Meaning that a lower market share could still have higher game adoption.

    For instance, take MMOs. There are no decent MMOs running Linux natively. As a former Ultima Online player now reconverted into a Free Software enthusiast, I would love a good MMO to play. But I will not use Windows.

    The market for MMOs is *saturated*. If you publish yet-another-MMO, whether it's for a niche market of players (hardcore MMOs such as DarkFall of Mortal Online which I would love to play) or another WoW theme-park-MMO clone, you still have to convince Windows players to buy your game and pay the monthly fees. The Linux desktop usage may be lower, there is NO competition for MMOs. Meaning all suckers for MMOs like me would play if the game is any good.

    In fact this applies to most games because the market is saturated. It is better summed up by the Lugaru game developers [wolfire.com].

    IMO, game developers are only missing opportunities. Once they release for Linux and Mac, desktop usage will raise and more people will favor their games over their Windows-only competitors.

    Last argument is that "Linux users only want free". This is wrong. Windows users are a lot more about cracking and pirating. If Linux users see something of value, they will no doubt buy it to encourage companies to continue. Most Free Software enthusiasts have no problem with proprietary games because it can be considered a piece of art rather than a piece of software. At least art resources (graphics, music) need not be free, even RMS says so :). And we *are* desperate for good native games.

    So (to game developers), stop depending on DirectX! Use abstraction layers between DirectX and OpenGL. UnrealEngine 3 works with both, and considering how advanced it is, I don't want to hear shit about how OpenGL is not as good. It will only get worse if game developers let it die. And release NATIVE support for Ubuntu and Fedora. The community will make sure it works on other distributions.
  • by Homer1946 (1160395) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:08PM (#27832173)
    I think the most important reasons for a lack of games is a purely business case reason predicated on market share.

    It is not that the developers are walking away from 30-50 million Linux users, it is that they look at their limited development dollars and ask, 'It is more profitable to use our development talent to create games for those 30 to 50 million Linux users, or for 10 to 100x as many Windows users?'

    This logic does not require any considerations of licenses and is at least partially divorced from cross-platform development issues.
  • by advocate_one (662832) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:15PM (#27832335)

    there has to be some significant penetration now if supermarkets are devoting shelf space on the magazine racks to Linux magazines...

    competition for shelfspace in those racks is cutthroat... if they don't sell, then they get dropped for titles that do sell.

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:31PM (#27832617)

    Why the fuck would you link to wikipedia for the definition of a word?

  • by PitaBred (632671) <slashdot@pitabre ... g ['s.o' in gap]> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:34PM (#27832681) Homepage
    Most of the GPL people push for free drivers because if they don't, the drivers will break. And they can't fix them. The API is stable... write a closed source program to the API, and you shouldn't have to worry about going to the next version of Linux. The kernel ABI is NOT stable, and things change in it. A lot. And the freedom to keep doing that is why people don't like binary blobs in the kernel. If you get dependent on other companies providing necessary features in a closed fashion, you have lost your freedom to innovate and change things.

    You are conflating two different things. Closed source applications are rarely railed against. Closed drivers are a completely different matter.
  • by LurkingOnSlashdot (1378465) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:39PM (#27832803)

    we can be sure that Linux is the most used on servers (of all types, not just web servers) and in embedded devices. I have purchased at least 2 items (Sony ebook reader and dlink home san) that I had no idea were running Linux. I would venture to guess that many people are running Linux somewhere in their home without even knowing it.

  • by greenbird (859670) * on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:43PM (#27832883)

    It would be foolish to count downloads for this purpose. However, Canonical could surely count update requests to repositories, for example.

    Why? That's how Microsoft counts their Vista sales. Units sold no matter how many were down-graded to XP. Oh...wait...you said it would be foolish.

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mR.bRiGhTsId3 (1196765) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:53PM (#27833051)
    You just demonstrated my point though. How old is the X1xxx series? I can't remember, but still, the latest ATI cards still aren't up to par yet. So, its worth shying away from them.
  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Carewolf (581105) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @04:22PM (#27836925) Homepage

    I bet the number is only 1/10th as large as Apple's MacOS share.

    I bet you're wrong.

    And by all estimates, my bet is safer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 06, 2009 @06:06AM (#27843381)
    "Licences" is the British spelling, you obnoxious patronising cunt.

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