My Prediction of 'Nix Based System Usage Share For January 2012

Oh, this is going to be so much fun, because I don’t have one damned bit of proof. What I do have is a bunch of unconnected things, that when you look at them make it damned likely that Linux Desktop usage has to be higher than the 1.09% which Wikipedia currently claims.

Admittedly it’s possible that I’m adding two plus two and getting forty-five, but I don’t think so.

Operating System Usage Stats

OS Usage Chart Courtesty of Wikipedia 2011-01-08
OS Usage Chart Courtesty of Wikipedia 2011-01-08

Above are Wikipedia’s numbers, as of today. There are a variety of issues with the way Wikipedia is showing the numbers, for example combining the Netbook and Tablet markets doesn’t make any sense, because a Netbook is a Notebook, and a tablet is a totally different form factor (note: I’m ignoring uses that the devices can be put to, because computers are general purpose devices. You could for example play PONG on a Supercomputer. It would be a waste of resources, but if you are rich enough to own one, and want to do so, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it).

Issues with how Wikipedia is presenting the numbers aside, the numbers as a whole do not make sense. And the numbers have never made sense. And may never make sense, because of the way that they are gathered.

For example let’s take a look at the top line.

Linux – 1.09%

Windows – 87.82%

Mac – 6.82%

That adds up to 95.73%. The information was gathered from web browsing stats, means that for 4.27% of machines being used for browsing, they were not able to determine what operating system was being used! Just think. For nearly 1 in 20 computers they were not able to identify the browser/operating system combination!

Did you know that you can change what your browser tells the world? Firefox users should read this page. Safari users should read this page. Internet Exploder users should read this page.

So the information gathered isn’t reliable. Admittedly most people probably don’t change the information that their browser is reporting. Heck, most people probably don’t know it’s possible.

Linux and Mac users tend to be more technically adept than Windows users, and therefore more likely to change the User Agent settings. They are often forced to do this by banks which require Internet Exploder for online banking. I know that we ran into this problem after abandoning Windows, and quickly found out that we could trick the bank website into working with Firefox on Ubuntu, by pretending to be Internet Exploder on Windows XP. For that matter I actually had several versions of Internet Exploder running under WINE on my Gateway laptop at one point. Didn’t need them. Just installed them because I could.

What Does The Enemy Think?

Of course what the enemy thinks can be revealing. Here’s the numbers reported by Steve Ballmer, the President and CEO of Microsoft:

Steve Ballmer's Presentation to Investors - Competition Page
Steve Ballmer's Presentation to Investors - Competition Page

My thanks to OS News – to read their article click on the image.

As you can see from the image, Microsoft thinks that Linux holds a larger usage share than Apple does. Curiously, so do most of the major hardware manufacturers.

What Do The Hardware OEMS Think?

The last several times I’ve been shopping for hardware, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Most of what I’ve looked at now has stickers claiming Linux compatibility. I was delighted when the Wireless card I needed for the one Linux desktop not only claimed compatibility on the package, it worked immediately upon being plugged in. Unlike with Windows, I didn’t even have to drop the driver CD into the drive, it just worked.

Major hardware makers don’t provide support, unless there’s money in it for them. It’s simple economics. Supporting an additional operating system adds costs. They need to sell more volume to defray those costs, and they wouldn’t be supporting Linux unless there was a pay off. In other words, there’s more than enough Linux users out there to make it financially viable to support Linux.

And yesterday it was announced that Broadcom had joined the Linux Foundation. I had quickly learned to hate Broadcom for their total lack of Linux support when I was dumping Windows. If you called them to ask why they didn’t support Linux, well, let’s just say that their response was less than satisfying. Actually they were infuriating.

Curiously the Linux drivers that the community finally managed to reverse engineer, worked better than Broadcom’s Windows drivers, so I’m not sure we really needed or wanted Broadcom’s support…

But it is a recognition that Linux usage has grown.

Some More Oddball Numbers

Here’s another chart from Wikipedia.

Web Stats
Web Stats

Take a look at the numbers. A close look. Specifically look at ‘Microsoft Windows – All Versions’. The low number is 83.09%, and the high number is 90.90%, with the calculated median of 87.82%. How many of those ‘Windows’ installations are actually Linux installations wearing a really ugly Halloween costume?

Oh, and when you attempt to calculate the ‘Median’ numbers above, the numbers don’t add up. Not only do they not add up, but the variance isn’t consistent. The Total Windows Median is to high, while the Windows Vista Median is too low. I’ve left a note on the discussion page, hopefully someone will fix the Wikipedia entry shortly, or at least explain what the hell they did!

Then take a look at the ‘Other’ column at the far right. It varies between 0.18% and 4.20%, Such a wide variance indicates problems with the data collection methodologies used. Either that, or everyone’s drunk.

W3 Schools Numbers
W3 Schools Numbers

So let’s take a look at another set of numbers. W3 Schools keeps track of users who visit their site, which teaches web site building. They show Linux usage share to be 5% in December 2010! Of course this doesn’t account for the number of Linux (or Mac) users who were masquerading as Windows users…

So Where Does This Leave Us?

A year ago I guessed that Linux was probably above 10% usage worldwide. I think that at the time I was close. Close as in horseshoes, hand grenades, and tactical nuclear weapons close. Maybe it was actually 8%, maybe it was actually 12%.

Since then several things have changed. In North America we now have Apple claiming that it holds 20% market share of the home market for new computers. This helps Linux market share considerably. Mac users are unlikely to move back to Windows, after becoming used to the stability of a Unix based operating system. If they can’t buy another Mac because they’ve been laid off, they’ll go Linux.

The there’s Vladimir Putin’s announcement that the Government of Russia is going Open Source, or Free Software, or something like that (note that I’ve seen three different translations of the announcement so far, and not one of them agrees on the exact wording). Exactly how this is going to play out no one knows, in part because no one but Putin appears to understand what he meant. The one thing everybody agrees on, is that it means that the Russian Government won’t be using very much Windows or OS X in the future.

I’m going to stick my neck out, and make a prediction.

By January 1, 2012, the total usage share of Unix based operating systems, on all devices surfing the web, including Desktops, NoteBooks, Tablets, Phones, Televisions and Set-top boxes, Cameras (still and video), Ebook Readers, etc., which includes operating systems such as Mac OS X, IOS, Android, Chrome, and all of the Solaris, BSD, and Linux variants, will be in excess of 25%.

Note that I said ‘in excess of 25%’, because I have a feeling that it could be considerably higher. Apple may not be a friend of the Free Software community, but Apple has inadvertently done us a huge favor, by redefining both the phone, tablet, and music player markets as ‘devices that don’t run Microsoft Windows.’

And the vast majority of those systems will be, like Chrome and Android, Linux based.

What’s your New Years Prediction?


Wayne Borean

Saturday January 8, 2011


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