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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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  • Confusion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @08:46AM (#27829863)

    Sadly the article seems to confuse install share and market share, not just confusing the phrases, but using them concepts interchangeably. For some uses, this does not matter, while for others it matters a great deal. That and the fact that the article ends with a cop out, "We have no way of knowing which is closest to the truth" makes this pretty useless.

  • what's a desktop? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xzvf (924443) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @08:51AM (#27829939)
    Seriously, how to you define desktop today? Linux holds a decent share of the POS/retail market. Are point of sale devices desktops? How about thin-clients? Some have a small Linux OS that RDP's to a Windows server. Is that a Linux or Windows desktop? I just finished a project where the thin clients were diskless and hosted totally on servers. Do I count the servers or the thin clients as desktops? At home I'm 80% Linux, 10% Mac and 10% Windows, but from the outside how am I counted.
  • by Dystopian Rebel (714995) * on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @08:52AM (#27829961) Journal

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

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @08:53AM (#27829977) Homepage Journal

    Or you could be like me and have 8 differn't ISO that you run in VMWare just to keep up with what they are doing.
    Heck I don't even know where you would count me. I run Linux and Windows on my desktop. If your a Windows Fan I guess you count me as a Windows user if your a Linux fan I am a Linux user.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:08AM (#27830225)

    Seriously. As long as there are enough people writing good software, who cares?

    Majority market share brings with it:

    * Being a virus/malware/spyware target
    * Dumbing everything down for the least common denominator
    * Insecurity through monocultures
    * A ton of crap loaded onto new machines
    * Every app in the world putting its own icon on your taskbar

    Seriously, folks... if it meets your needs, it doesn't *matter* what the next guy over is using. If Linux should ever achieve 90% market share, or even 50%, I'm off to greener pastures.

    Don't make the mistake of thinking Linux is malware-proof. It's not. It's just not much of a target with a few percent market share.

    Linux runs all the software to do the tasks I need to do, and then some. That's sufficient. I don't need to be personally validated by having the rest of the world run what I do. Anything that attracts the Public At Large is *always* going to be crap. Let's leave our little NON-crap corner of the world go by unnoticed, whatdya say?

    If X is any good, the first rule of X is you don't talk about X...

  • by rabbit994 (686936) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:23AM (#27830441)

    Actually, on the Desktop side, Ballmer during a investor meeting said biggest competition to Windows on Desktop is pirated Windows. Linux and Apple are blips and while they continue to make headway, it's extremely slow and not that large of a threat.

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:26AM (#27830499)

    Wow you make a shitty business person. If an engine you want to use is GPL and you don't want to GPL your code either do one of two things:

    1) Find another physics engine
    2) Contact the author and make an offer to use it under a commercial license.

    C'mon these are gaming companies that spend money. What's a few thousand dollars that they would probably be spending in the windows world anyway. Many popular libraries worth using are written under the LGPL which just keeps that library open and lets you link to it GPL-free. I don't know why it is so hard to negotiate or even understand an open source license when in the proprietary world gaming companies have lawyers that mull through license agreements and broker copyright deals all the time.

    For the record I am kind of sick and tired of stupid baseless GPL bashing. Someone wrote some software and they released it under a certain license. Think of the GPL as being, this software is free to use and instead of paying to use it in a restricted manner (EULA stuff) your form of potential payment is to pay with your own code IF you modify it. This isn't to say one way is more correct than another but most of the complaints are just ridiculous. I think the last complaint you'd hear from a company is overworking their expensive lawyers to actually do work. ...Hey look at that, SDL is under LGPL and has a commercial license option, ALSA is LGPL, Crystal Space 3d engine is LGPL, Cube2 engine is ZLIB, which is hardly GPL. Maybe you need to get your facts straight by doing a simple google. Fact is, if you're a gaming company and you want to use an open source engine, call up your business lawyer/business rep like you would do if you were planning on licensing the crysis engine.

  • Re:Easy solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Americano (920576) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:28AM (#27830527)
    Most likely because a surprisingly large number of people equate their computer with what it does for them - the application is important to them, not the OS.
  • by ThrowAwaySociety (1351793) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:32AM (#27830581)

    Agreed. Even the words "market share" are almost meaningless for Linux. "Market share" is the share of the market...how exactly do you count sales for something that's given away for free?

    If I buy a PC with an OEM Windows license, then download and install Linux on that box, what does that mean? I've given money to Microsoft in exchange for a product, and no money to any of its competitors. Obviously, a market share point in MS's favor.

    The Net Applciations numbers track "usage share" (the percentage of people using Linux for day-to-day tasks) and is probably the most meaningful if you were, say, trying to figure out whether to port your desktop app or game to Linux. (This number is skewed slightly since a large percentage of web surfing is done from work PCs...if you're a game developer, you don't care about work PCs.)

    TFA also suggests counting Firefox downloads. That's a seperate quantity, akin to counting the number of Ubunto ISOs downloaded. It gives you the number of people experimenting with Linux, not necessarily using it. Naturally this is higher than the Net Applications number...my two Linux VMs both count toward this number, even though I spend less than 5% of my time playing with them.

    As for USA vs. Europe/Asia...well, it kind of depends on why you care. If you're just a armchair Linux advocate, then you'll get the warm fuzzies hearing about global Linux adoption. If you're a US software corporation, you probably don't give a rat's ass.

  • What counts? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cyner (267154) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:40AM (#27830713) Homepage

    Part of the problem is also establishing what counts? I personally have 4 "Desktops" around the house with a Unix-like OS. Do those all count toward the total? Or should they count for two since only two people use them?
    And what about the boxes I have that I no longer use? Most of them are also non-Windows PCs.

    I can see where 1% of users might be Linux, and a much higher number (though 10% seems darn high) of boxes are Linux.

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mutu310 (1546975) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:42AM (#27830735)
    How about this? The EU decides that it wants to stop the monopoly of Windows for PC gaming and defines that game developers would need to follow certain criteria which would allow the games to be played on different OSes. This would be the ultimate blow to Microsoft, as gaming is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) excuse people give as to why they won't migrate from Windows to Linux. Such an influx of users would also mean that there are more 'hands on deck' to improve the Linux experience.
  • by Pecisk (688001) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:54AM (#27830925)

    First of all, there is clear notion that statistics can be "lying", or even better, people are drawing wrong conlutions from them. That's fine, because decrypting stats is daunting task and can require full-time team of specs to do that.

    I personally don't care about TOTAL number, because it is not all about market share. As lot of people have already pointed out, most people DON'T care about what OS they use, they care about APPS. So question is more like - do Ubuntu has nice DVD player with Tango niceness and integration with rest of desktop? No? Vola! Afaik, Gstreamer guys works on one so it could be available commercially for OEMs and people who cares about legitimacy of DVD playback on computer. Do Linux has Visio replacement? Of course it doesn't. It is so hard to do? No! (let's be honest, it's not a web browser). So why then anyone ignores it?

    Because everyone waits for some kind of grand sign to come out! :) Guess what - unless Linux Foundation don't create some kinda of OEM sales counter, Linux sales will and will stay a mystery.

    Anyway, numbers does matter to check progress. But it is only one of things. We, Linux devs and active users, have still lot to do. But let's not forget that that's OS for us. We do this for us. And rest of bunch are just invited to join :)

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:58AM (#27830989)

    I would point out the John Carmack changed his stance on DirectX a few years back.

    In January 2007, John Carmack said that "DX9 is really quite a good API level. Even with the D3D side of things, where I know I have a long history of people thinking I'm antagonistic against it. Microsoft has done a very, very good job of sensibly evolving it at each step - they're not worried about breaking backwards compatibility - and it's a pretty clean API. I especially like the work I'm doing on the 360, and it's probably the best graphics API as far as a sensibly designed thing that I've worked with."

    I'm sure he knows a thing or two about the technologies and the difficulties involved with both.

    OpenGL is designed as a general purpose 3D API. DirectX is a low level high performance 3D API which is ideal for making games. OpenGL can match DirectX performance but it takes a lot more work to do it.

    And Guildwars was released 4 years ago, I can't imagine any computer or emulation layer having issues running it. Not to say its not a good game, but hardly a good comparison when discussing gaming.

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

    by FictionPimp (712802) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:21AM (#27831351) Homepage

    I opted to stop playing computer games.

    I used the money to interact more with the outside world. Took up hobbies that improved my health and introduced me to new things and culture.

    Then I broke down and got a 360, wii, and ps3. My gaming itch is not scratched on a 50 inch screen from my lazy boy.

    I'll still buy mac games when the mood strikes. But quitting pc gaming allowed me to get rid of windows in an instant.

    A much more tangible side effect? I'm off the upgrade mill. I don't have to spend money on new video cards every year, more ram, bigger processors, etc. I recently upgraded my notebook (my wife needed a new computer). I doubled the ram, gained a ton of cpu power and a much larger video card. The net effect is that I can't tell a god damn difference. This is very exciting to me. It means I might not need to spend hundreds of dollars a year on my computer.

  • by rkhalloran (136467) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:36AM (#27831603) Homepage

    There's two data points the surveys are likely to miss, though one is VERY small and unlikely to skew the results.

    I rolled my own desktop system by purchasing the various components (mobo/CPU/RAM/...) and assembling; said box has been through three versions of Linux and never seen an MS install disk. Is this somehow being tallied in? Doubt it.

    The "scrub the pre-installed Windows and reload" scenario is probably more prevalent, but still unlikely to be in the counts. I'm looking at a netbook, and probably one with an internal HD vs. flash storage. Most of those come preloaded with XP. If I get one, the first action is plugging in an external optical drive and reloading with some netbook-friendly distro. Do they count the preloaded XP I was sold, or the Linux I'm actually running with?

    SCOX(Q) DELENDA EST!!

  • Survey Says (Score:2, Interesting)

    by webmarin (320151) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:38AM (#27831657) Homepage

    Google Analytics shows that of the 20,000 or so visitors to my web site in the last month only .67% are identifiable as Linux. So 1% sounds about right...

  • by SocietyoftheFist (316444) * on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:45AM (#27831807)

    Reality distortion fields are very prevalent among believers. I use Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. In the past I have used FreeBSD, OpenBSD (they're dead you know!), OS/2 and others. In my everyday life, working with co-workers, interacting with friends, paying attention to machines in use at the bookstore or coffee house, I've never seen a Linux machine in use outside of work or my home. I do have one co-worker that says Linux is his primary OS at home with a Windows machine only for gaming. One thing I have noticed is a surge in Mac usage. Last weekend I actually had a period of several hours where I only saw Macs in use on a street mall. At every coffee shop or sandwich shop you'd find at least one person with a laptop and I only saw Apples, I was actually incredibly surprised. I think the fact that more software houses are writing for the Mac shows where people are migrating too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:47AM (#27831847)
    I respectfully have to disagree. On my Mac, I have 2 Windows VMs and 4 Linux VMs, that results in 100% market share for MacOS, 200% for Windows and 400% for Linux. I'm looking forward to the first person to explain how market share can be negative.
  • 10% WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Brandybuck (704397) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:53AM (#27833039) Homepage Journal

    Partisans suggest 10%? WTF? That sounds like someone needs to get out of their parent's basement and start living in reality. Perhaps they know nine other people in the world, and so assume that 10% of everyone uses Linux. But it' simply not true. 10% of the people my company use Linux. But we're a Unix development shop! In my circle of friends, 2% use Linux, and we're all geeks and nerds.

    You simply cannot extrapolate your narrow slice of the world onto the whole.

    But on to the good news: It doesn't matter what the market share for Linux is. All that matters is that you choose to use it. I don't use Linux, I use FreeBSD. It doesn't matter to me that fewer people use it than use Windows, or Mac, or Linux. It's my choice and that's all that matters. I don't have a need to use the same software everyone else is. I don't need to drive a car the same color as my neighbor. I am free to be an individual. So choose your own operating system, your own distro, your own pick of packages. Build it all from source if you want. Use something polished like Ubuntu, or hardcore like Slackware, bleeding edge like Arch. Or think outside the box ad try FreeBSD or OpenSolaris.

    The key is to put yourself in charge, not the market share.

  • and whenever you argue with someone who is against gun control, they are knee deep in facts and figures. they try to use facts all the time. as for "honestly" using facts, i don't know what honesty is supposed to mean in this context. people honestly fight for their convictions, if that's what you mean

    furthermore, i don't know why you think the concept of an "emotional argument" has a negative connotation. the argument for gun control is emotional. the argument against gun control is emotional. there is no such thing as an argument over gun control that is not emotional. furthermore, emotions and passions are the foundation for any social policy in the world, for or against any issue you can dream of

    show me someone who can make an emotionless argument, and i'll show you someone who doesn't care about the outcome, and therefore has no business in that argument. emotion is far more important than logic in reason in any policy dispute there is. the place of logic and reason is only to sway people's emotions and passions into alignment with yours

  • Re:Survey Says (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:49PM (#27833961) Homepage

    I worked in Web analytics, so I can speak to this somewhat. One problem with Google Analytics is it depends on Javascript and Web bugs to get it's numbers. Linux users are more likely than others to have things like AdBlock Plus, NoScript, Webmonkey et. al. installed and configured. If the scripts don't run and the Web bug isn't fetched, the Web-analytics firm has no idea the browser's hit the page. The result is systemic undercounting. Oddly, it can be compensated for by log parsing, but few firms actually do that.

    To give you an idea of the scale, we can look at cookie-blocking stats. Right now about 17.5% of users block or delete third-party cookies, and about 7.5% block or delete first-party cookies. The nasty part is the "or delete". That's those users who have their browser set to accept cookies but delete them when they close the browser window. That completely hoses Web analytics stats in all kinds of ways.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:56PM (#27835335)

    No, product managers are very aware that they can release proprietary games for Linux. The problem are the big publishers and they already have a strategy: don't publish for Linux. Why?
    Because they don't want to further spread the market. If they release their top-titles for linux, they are very aware that more users will ditch their win-installation. That means they would have to provide Linux-Ports of other games if they want to reach that audience. There are enough examples of games that were ported to linux by their developers and then ditched because the publisher said "Don't release it"
    That's why there are two hopes for Linux-gaming only: wine and indy-studios. Wine already reaches a pretty high standard and with time, more and more games will be supported. Indy devs don't really need publishers any more and the percentage of games made by indys is therefor increasing.

    In the end, hardcoregamers that always want to play the newest top-titles won't be happy with a Linux-only machine in the next years, but those gamers that want one good game per genre can already be happy with Linux and will have more options each month. Only way that could change is if one big player like EA or Valve would start releasing its top-titles for Linux. THAT may change the situation very quickly, but it's very unlikely.

  • by dedazo (737510) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:03PM (#27835479) Journal

    Anecdote time. Early last year I sat across a conference table with the CTO of a medium-sized manufacturing company (~3,000 employees) trying to nail a contract req for a custom inventory control system. They had pretty weird needs that didn't fit into any of the OTS solutions they had evaluated, so they decided to hire someone to do it for them.

    In this particular case they were already using Linux for a few things, so I figured I'd go with that. It's always a risk to recommend a FOSS stack at companies which are Windows/Commercial Unix heavy, but my Postgres/Python/Apache would have fit quite well with their infrastructure. Otherwise I would have gone with the MS-based solution.

    Keep in mind that "using Linux" here was essentially a few of their sysadmins deploying them as file servers and prefab CMS platform, so they didn't have any actual applications running on the OS. Everything else was Windows, but they didn't have any custom apps on that either. Their business ran, predictably enough, on Excel.

    Me: "Well, I would recommend using a database called Postgres and a language called Python, a framework called Django plus the Apache web server and yadda yadda sales pitch"
    CTO: "Hmmm, Linux. We already run some things on Linux, don't we?"
    OtherGuy: "Yeah"
    CTO: "What?"
    OtherGuy: "Well, the executive blogs and the product wiki and the defect tracking system and a few other things. It's just stuff we downloaded and installed, PHP, MySQL, that sort of thing."
    CTO: "Hmmmm. But I don't want to release this application"
    Me: "Release the application? You mean the code? Why would you do that?"
    CTO: "Well the other stuff we have running on Linux we downloaded it but this is something we're going to create from scratch"
    Me: "... and why would you be releasing the code?"
    CTO: "Because it has to run on Linux. Right? So it's open source and all that"
    Me: "Uh, no. You don't have to release anything."
    OtherGuy: "No"
    CTO: "Oh, OK then. I thought we had to let other people download it because it would use all that stuff you said and runs on Linux and is open source and all that"

    I didn't get the gig, but adding up a few other experiences I'd say this is fairly common, especially at medium companies that don't have years and years of IT experience.

  • Re:Guesstimates? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @08:10PM (#27840557)

    But yet almost all current Linux users are counted as Windows users by Microsoft's standards, since their computers were likely purchased with Windows preinstalled. If they bought them with the XP "downgrade", Microsoft gets to count that as two sales, one for XP and one for Vista.

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

    by HermMunster (972336) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:35PM (#27841905)

    Your argument does nothing more than bring up the question of the chicken or the egg. Which comes first?

    Development for Windows, when DOS was preeminent, had these same influences, and the costs were as high (in a relative sense). If target audience size were the case and the size of the audience wasn't large enough and it was an important factor, we'd have no Windows. There were other, a lot of other, influences back then and a perception that to fail to develop for Windows now meant failure in the future even though there was no real evidence of it. The same goes for Macintosh. If marketshare was the only key factor we'd have no applications other than those provided by Apple.

    Apple had a few tricks up their sleeves. They had a couple technologies that would become indespensable to the future, those being Postscript (WYSIWYG) and laser printers. Those two alone drive Apple's success for a while. Microsoft tried to counter with their own font technologies and HP came out with PCL. But for the next 5 or so years it was Apple on top of it all. When truetype became widely available and mostly free we had a change occur.

    Unfortunately Linux has no hidden trick up their sleeve as the industry has simply degenerated into a series of oligopolies and monopolies where almost no new ideas or technologies are making their way to the desktop in order to entice consumers. We all pretty much read our mail, chat, browse the web, write, calculate our spreadsheets, manage our friends and consume content (play music and videos).

    Apple's implementation of the GUI was revolutionary and from that point forward we have had nothing but evolutionary change. Once the key apps were written and everyone else copied them there wasn't much variation on new ideas.

    Suffice it to say, Microsoft had to know this and had to be planning on the day when the development of technologies flattened out to the point that they needed only keep their product lines up to date in order to hold dominance, of course, all the while, trapping everyone into proprietary document formats.

    The first thing tought to me in marketing class is that your USP can't be money. It need not even be audience size. What is a USP? USP is your unique selling proposition. If you base your USP on money over the long haul you will loose. You can't succeed over the long haul by trying to sell the cheapest product. You have to have something other than money as your USP.

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