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How Many Linux Users Are There (Really)? - page 2

Everyone Uses Linux, No One Uses Linux

  • February 18, 2009
  • By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

The question that isn't often asked though is: "Can you trust Net Applications' numbers?" According to Roy S. Schestowitz, editor of Boycott Novell, the answer is: "No." According to a recent Boycott Novell blog, "Microsoft and Apple put money on Net Applications' table, so rather unsurprisingly, the results satisfy both companies. GNU/Linux, on the other hand, is not able to pay Net Applications for favourable bias."

And, in addition, to other points Schestowitz writes, "Net Applications admits its statistics are flawed (skewed)" and "Net Applications keeps its methods secret and the dataset likewise."

Whether Net Applications is unduly influenced by Apple and Microsoft is outside the scope of this story. What can be said though is that Net Applications' desktop numbers certainly can't be taken as Gospel.

In my own research of the Web traffic history of computer, but not Linux-oriented, sites, with millions of hits per month, I found that Linux desktops averaged at 6.8%. That number is biased towards technically adept users, and not the general population. That said, I think it's a more accurate number for the computer-literate population than the Net Application numbers are for the general population.

Netbook Impact

That said, with the rise of netbook sales, Linux is getting into many more hands. For example, ASUS CEO Jerry Shen said in October 2008 that ASUS would hit its expected number of 5-million ASUS Eee netbooks sold. If three out of ten of those netbooks are running Linux, as the company has said, then that alone has brought 2-million more desktop Linux users on board in 2008 alone.

Combine that with Dell and other major OEM (original equipment manufacturer) pre-installed desktop Linux sales and the Linux hardcore who install their own distributions, and I think that 10-million desktop Linux users is a reasonable estimate.

Windows Impact

Of course, compared to Windows users, that's not a big number. Linux's millions though is a significant number, and not just to Linux users. In its latest quarterly announcement, Microsoft admitted that, "Client revenue declined 8% as a result of PC market weakness and a continued shift to lower priced netbooks."

If the Linux desktop is big enough to be hitting Microsoft's bottom line; it's certainly big enough to matter.

But, we still don't know exactly how many Linux desktop users there are... yet. Cole Crawford, a Dell Linux engineer, is working on the problem. He has created statix to anonymously track the number of Linux desktops worldwide.

Statix is a client/server program. It uses both a Python client and a hosted Python CGI (Common Gateway Interface) back end to track Linux desktops is running. Eventually, it will also be able to track the kernel and distribution of statix-using Linux desktops. The client will not send any personal information about the user back to a centralized database. It's simply a mechanism that can be used by any Linux distribution to say "Linux desktop user here."

This is a purely open-source project and needs your support. With just a bit of work, statix will finally be able to give us a hard answer to that annoying difficult to grapple with question: "How many Linux users are there anyway!?" I, for one, would really like to know the answer.

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