Linux now accounts for 1.02% of computers. Depending on how you see things, this percentage is cause for cautious celebration, or complete dismissal of the system’s prospects.
Linux comes from dozens of community projects and vendors, instead of a single corporation, and because you don’t have to register to activate the software, just one DVD could be the source for more than half a dozen installations. This means that trying to estimate the true worth of Linux quickly falls into oblivion, and also depends on your personal experiences with the software.
You could argue that this percentage has been underestimated, an even though the underestimation might be just a small amount, it can make a big difference. Looking at Mac, with 9.73%, this is a percentage that is almost twice that of OS X. This means that the figures you can find on NetApplications might be skewed to a point. The margin of error could be extremely high if you see it for what it is, which is a worldwide software that is hard to pin down.
The other thing to consider that this stat is from an American company, which means that it doesn’t take into account overseas information. Nobody would be surprised that, given how popular Microsoft is, of course it’s going to be used more in its home country than any else in the world.
Looking at it Through Firefox
So, how can we find potentially more accurate figures to look at? Asa Dotzler, the parent company for Mozilla, accepts that 1% of computer users were using Linux.
This is based on Firefox usage. So, still keeping the figures nice and conservative, it is easy to assume that almost 90% of computers are connected with the Internet. The assumption also is that Firefox is the default browser for 90% of people using Linux.
Therefore, it is estimated that people using Linux represent 2% to 5% of Firefox users. The install base for this is set at 250 million, which is generally seen as accurate over the years.
Therefore, Linux users fall somewhere between 5.5 and 16 million. If you consider that there are just less than 1.6 billion computers in the world, the figure could be closer to 1.5%, which isn’t that far off the original. However, there are people out there responding to this stat that still think it is too low. What about those who only install Firefox through the package management system? There is unfortunately no way to estimate numbers like this.
An Indirect Approach
Aaron Siego, who is part of KDE, gave an example about a scientist in the 1940s who estimated the force of an atomic bomb by measuring how far it would displace certain bits of paper. He told the story to emphasize that estimations come from indirect indications, rather than solid figures, or direct observation.
The thing about trends in North America is that they are not always in keeping with the rest of the world, which means that there are countless indications to factor into the Linux percentage conundrum, including the growing number of computer manufacturers offering preloads, and the operating system success on netbooks.
You can also go on to think about things like the government departments and cities in Europe that adopt Linux, and the more than 50,000 labs in Brazil that deploy this specific type of operating system to more than 50 million students.
The point of his example was that if you look outside of North America, the generally accepted figures are too low, and distorted by the fact that the United States and Canada is dominated by Windows.
Seigo was somewhat reluctant to give away a percentage, but when he was pressed, he did hint that 8% was probably a more accurate figure, with 12% being the most likely. Naturally, some people were skeptical about this, but his example is relevant, and suggests that North Americans would consistently underestimate Linux, because they work with Windows so much of the time.
Of course, there are some people out there that will consider his percentage point too optimistic. However, you see with Seigo’s specific figures, the presentation does suggest that whatever the user statistics are now, they are rising exponentially.
Choose Your Percentage and Your Logic
The wide discrepancy among figures emphasizes the difficulty of determining exact user numbers. All you have to do is apply a different set of assumptions, and the numbers can vary hugely. Despite this, we still think that it’s important to explore all the possibilities, if not for the purpose of establishing those solid figures. Instead of giving a precise number, and then running through the logic of it, the bias and assumption behind the numbers is a helpful reminder that the objectivity of numbers can often just be a myth.
So, is Linux as rare as some people are suggesting? Is it actually a lot more common, like is being suggested by Siego? The bottom line is that we have no way of knowing what the truth is.
At least people who advocate for both sides give their reasoning for how they feel, instead of just offering up a number, with the illusion of objectivity that columnists and media services would pick up without asking any questions.