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Speak up!

by Simon Brew

The idea of getting an OS free is still one that amazingly few people have wrapped their heads around. Why is that? Simon Brew thinks we could make 2010 a great year for Linux simply by speaking up about its benefits – all ten million of us…

Forgive the stating of the obvious, and the use of the same word twice in one sentence, but small numbers have, by their nature, a habit of looking very small. Over the past couple of months, I’ve read several times and in several places about how Linux desktop usage makes us less than 1% of the worldwide operating system market. 1%! That’s nothing! We should all just give up and go home!

Now 1% wouldn’t be a big number if we were talking about the visitors to my local shop. But we’re not. We’re talking about people who use a computer. Let’s suggest, for the sake of argument, that there are a billion computer users in the world. The total is likely to be a little less than that, depending on who you believe, but as a ballpark figure, it’s not a bad place to start.

So let’s do the maths. 1% of one billion people? That’s’ ten million. Even if you scale the numbers down a little bit to allow for marginal error and PR nonsense, it’s fair to suggest that there are around five to eight million daily users of Linux on their desktop.

That, all of a sudden, is not such a small number, and one that’s set to bounce higher in the near future when Google releases its strangely controlled Chrome OS ‘open source’ operating system next year. Granted, in comparison to the numbers of Mac OS and Windows, Linux’s desktop userbase is small, but it’s nonetheless growing, and become a more and more attractive option.

Not just for cash reasons, either, although the idea of getting a power-packed operating system for gratis is still one that amazingly few people have wrapped their heads around (see also: Skype). I’ve been playing with the latest edition of Linux Mint, and it’s a distribution that’s everything right with open source. It’s a derivative of Ubuntu, it’s been tailored to a more specific (media) purpose, and if you don’t like it, you can move on and try something else instead.

Realistically, 2010 is no more likely to be a revelatory year for Linux than 2009 was. But it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t have to do what Windows does, and fix problems with new releases every couple of years. The core product is evolving in many guises very well.

If it could do one thing differently for the year ahead, though, the Linux movement as a whole could use shouting a bit louder. Google will be lending the idea of open source operating systems a megaphone at the end of 2010, but even with that, there are millions upon millions of Linux users across the planet. And it’s in their hands, and their recommendations, where the true power, and arguably the future growth, of Linux lies.
Simon Brew

simon_brew_greyAbout the author
Simon Brew is a technology writer and editor, working across the Linux, Windows and Mac OS platforms. He’s also an ex-editor of Linux User & Developer.

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    • Mace Moneta

      10 million? The number you are probably seeing is the Market Share. This number only takes into account the number of copies of Linux sold. The number you are interested in is the Installed Base, the number of copies actually installed. Since there is no registration requirement for Linux, that number is unknown.

      The Fedora project says that about 22 million unique IP addresses connect to their repositories:

      Canonical says their numbers are about the same for Ubuntu. That’s 40+ million for just two distributions (of 300+). About 20% of the 35 million netbooks sold last year run Linux too. This year, smartbooks will be making a big push, and they will be running primarily Linux.

      The definition of a ‘desktop’ is a question too. Many younger folks do almost everything on their smartphones. Linux is a major player in that market, with Android, WebOS and Maemo devices. Motorola alone has indicated they will be introducing 20-30 Android phones this year.

      Linux is everywhere at this point; in routers, TVs, DVRs, PMPs. It’s so omnipresent, it’s invisible. :)

    • Paul Olinger

      The best chance Linux had at making awesome gains on the desktop was with netbooks. Asus opened a potential door for Linux to really take charge in the newly formed netbook market. But what do they end up doing? They use a neutered version of Xandros with a bland-looking kiddie interface.

      Ask any Linux expert and they’ll tell you all kinds of ways that the eeepc, and any netbook with pre-installed Linux could have been a lot better. In fact, with little effort, any desktop environment can be made to look and behave nearly identical to Windows if that is really what the casual person wants.

      The amazing thing about the 1% user amount you talk of though, it was enough to make Microsoft keep XP around longer, and practically give it away free to netbook manufacturers. Even at 1%, Linux is still quite a force in the market.

    • Eric

      It is tough when almost any computer you buy comes with windows. I know companies like dell have been getting there feet/toes wet by providing an alternative linux OS like ubuntu.

      When you go out looking for a computer it is cheaper to purchase one from some big suppliers with the OS installed then to build one and put a Linux OS on. What makes things even stupider and next to impossible is finding a place to purchase a computer without an OS. Its sad how MS has there fingers wrapped around these companies. If some Linux distro can get into this market share it could really make a impact?

    • TGS Nellor

      My experience is that more than half of Linux users used at least 3 different distros and rest mostly a single one. So average about 2 distros per linux user. So you can cound 22 million Fedora users + 22 million Ubuntu users. My guess is – some 4% of PC’s are running with Linux distro. Top Linux countries: Germany, Finland, France, Brazil, S.Africa, Sweden, Norway, Iceland. Biggest increase: Latin America. Low: Asia (they use Windows pirates)