GandhiCon 4.x

Searches for the word "linux" have been trending downward since early 2004, according to Google. Searches in mid-2011 are about a quarter of what they were in early 2004. On the other hand, searches for "android" more than doubled those for "linux" by mid-2011. So, what should we make of that?

Android is Linux-based, created by Google for use in smartphones and other mobile devices. According to Nielsen, Android by March 2011 was the top smartphone OS, with a 36% market share. That's up from zero just several years ago. Apple's iOS is #2 with 33%, and RIM's BlackBerryOS is third with 23%. But only Apple makes iOS-based devices, and only RIM makes BlackBerries. There's no limit on how many companies can make an Android device, which will only make the market wider.

There are downsides with Android. A number of developers have told me the Apple development environment is much easier to work with, as is having a single target device. Yet even in "How Apple Feeds Its Army of App Makers" (in the June 8 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek), Peter Burrows writes, "Apple hasn't monopolized developers' attention. According to a survey by market research firm Evans Data, the percentage of developers writing apps for Android (43.5%) just passed the share working in iOS (39.7%)." (And there's the fact that Android's development community is essentially a Google one. This may change, but for now Android is a one-company Linux distro.)

But the larger point holds: uses of Linux only go up, even as searches for the word "linux" go down. Hey, success can get boring.

We see a similar thing happening with Apache. has been keeping statistics on Web servers since August of 1995, and Apache has been the top dog ever since early 1996. While Microsoft Web servers have been competitive for much of that time, and even made some runs against Apache, the trend for Apache has been upward since early last year. As of June 2011, Apache had a 64.88% share of the market.

Netcraft's list of Most Reliable Hosting Company Sites for May of this year also was nearly a clean sweep for open source as well, and for Linux in particular. Four of the top ten were FreeBSD, five were Linux and one was F5 Big-IP. Of the top 50, five were Windows, the top coming in at #18. All but one ("unknown") of the rest were Linux and FreeBSD. For years, Windows at least made a showing in the top 10, but clearly a tide has turned.

"Welcome to GandhiCon 4" was the title of my column in the March 2003 issue of Linux Journal. It played on the famous quote often attributed to Mohandas Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." The win then was in servers. Now Linux has been succeeding for so long, in so many different kinds of devices and form factors, that it hardly seems like a fight any more. Even the desktop, which I often predicted (incorrectly) that Linux would win, finally looks like it might be within reach.

As I write this, Apple has recently announced iCloud—and in the process, demoted its computers to remote terminal status. Google has nothing to lose and everything to gain by playing the same cloud game. Its strategy for that is Chromebooks, aimed straight at pain points for both the educational and enterprise business markets.

Chromebooks will run ChromeOS, which is a dedicated version of the open-source (and Linux-based) Chromium OS, first released by Google in November 2009. Chromebooks have rental rates: $20 and $28 per month, respectively, for students and businesses. Laptops from Acer and Samsung will price in the $350–$500 range. They'll run the Google suite of applications and services, and will be managed and updated by Google. This is what Nicholas G. Carr (in The Big Switch) calls "utility" computing, and it's another reason why searches for "linux" will continue going down while uses for Linux go up. IT departments will have less to do.

Some other interesting facts worth noting. For "linux" searches:

  • The top ten regions don't include the US. The top seven are all in Asia.

  • The top five cities are in China, Taiwan, Japan and India.

  • English falls ninth among the top ten languages. Czech is first, followed by Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian. Even Finish and Hungarian are ahead of English.

For "android" searches:

  • The top four regions are all in Asia. In order they are Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. Sweden is next. The US is seventh.

  • Among the top cities, the US gets three of the top ten. Atlanta is fifth, Los Angeles is seventh, and New York is ninth.

  • The top languages are Korean, Indonesian, Swedish and English, in that order.

Go to Google Trends to see how things are changing now (that is, whenever you read this). What you'll see isn't a story of Linux's decline in the world. Success is established. All that changes are versions of that success. And that number is going up too.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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android is better

Ryan Hall's picture

The great thing about android is that it's open source. Anyone can make them. Although, there are a few things that need to be considered like rampant release of programs that don't work. Still, it gives consumers the right to choose.

Pull Your Ex Back review

About that F5 Big-IP ...

jsdy's picture

The F5 Big-IP mentioned in your article is not a Web server. It's a load balancer: the Web servers are proxied behind it.

It's Linux-based, of course. ;~)

Joe Yao
user of said devices


snowdrop's picture

As mentioned twice already, the main lesson is that people start associating linux with various and specific distros, telling us more about successful attempts of branding and to get hyped in (mainly net) media.

Personally I think it is as good thing as a specific distro is way easyer to grasp for a normal user that isn't tech savvy than the word "linux". A specific distro has it's name, it's package manager, looks, pre-installed programs etc and gives a holistic impression. Compare that with talking about "Linux" which is very abstract and non-specific for a normal user, and it's quite easy to understand why a branding/distro-centric approach is winning ground.

Linux on the desktop is still

Anonymous's picture

Linux on the desktop is still a joke among anyone other than geeks and server users, in large part as well due to gaming and applications that have no linux counterpart, and when asked you are told to use 'wine'. That is not happening. It's not going to even come close to touching windows and mac anytime soon if ever, and in large part because its way too fragmented to get any traction, and the supposed #1 distro Ubuntu, uses mono something that the stalwart RMS has said is dangerous to do and that we should avoid it ( besides that now its moot). It Doesn't sound like Ubuntu is a leader to me, but just begging users to be enveloped in patent encumberments. So much for sticking up for free and 'open' software, and so much for Linux on that front. Any other distro is either hard to use or unstable in its operation, and I have tried nearly all. It is going to take a ton of effort to get beyond those issues, and while they try, windows and mac will keep improving. That 'single target device' causing fragmentation, just like it does in Linux,and the attitude most linux users seem to have won't help at all.

Nothing to see here.Windows/mac might be non free , but I know what to expect release to release, and the community is professional and non fragmented.

Shiver me timbers! Let's be feedin' the troll, swabbies! ARRR!

Sum Yung Gai's picture

Looks like the "International Talk like a Pirate Day" filter be runnin' on today, so talk like a pirate I will! YAARRRRR!

Yer "Windows/mac" are most definitely non-free, swabbie. And we do be knowin' what to expect, aye. From the Winders side, we'll be expectin' more rootkits, more loggers o' the keystroke, more ad-ware, more spyware, more this vulnerability, an' more that vulnerability. From the Mac side, we can be expectin' further denial that software from th' Apple ship be havin' bugs o' any sort, thus puttin' their users at continual risk. They need to be walkin' the plank for such irresponsibility.

Not sayin' Linux not be havin' bugs, laddie. *All* software does. The difference is bein' that we be free to fix yon bugs and stamp 'em out like deck rats when we be encounterin' 'em! The same be applyin' to other Free systems like OpenBSD. Cap'n Puffy o' the OpenBSD ship be fightin' buggy software now for 16 years. They be doin' such a good job at it that their OpenSSH be the standard for most SSH implementations, even Cisco and Oracle/Sun be usin' it. Now there be testimony for ya, lad! ARRRR! ARRRR!!

RMS be right about Mono and the patent issues it be presentin'. Ye should be takin' the issue up with Mr. Shuttleworth at Canonical if ye not be likin' it included with Ubuntu. Or hey--since yer gettin' the software for free, how's about rollin' up yer own sleeves and helpin' out with writin' some applications? CentOS be me distro o' choice, and I be havin' little problem gettin' thin's t'work just fine...'cause I be havin' the FREEDOM to do so, unlike with Windows/Mac.

Long live Free Software! AHOY! ARRRR!! ARRRR!!!!


</Rant> ...

Robert Halloran's picture

Blah blah blah .. Windows r00lz, Linux dr00lz, haha I made a funny... Feel better after the rant, friend?

Unless you're a hardcore PC gamer, or Autocad user, there's just not that much I can think of where Linux doesn't Just Work. I keep an XP instance in VirtualBox to run Turbotax out of *once a year*, and use Linux the rest of the time. I do my gaming on a game console, thanks (dedicated hardware for niche functions, etc etc). I use an Android phone which Just Works, have media tanks and home-NAS boxes that Just Work, and the only Windows in my house is my wife's netbook because she prefers it and that's OK with me.


fenopy's picture

The title "GandhiCon 4.x" was little bit confusing for me but when I read full story then all things have clear. I am sharing the most like sentences of your story "Mohandas Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.". I thing it was great quote of Mahatma Gandhi.


Teligonast's picture

Where I get Total Information about Linux Operating System? How I Update may Linux Operating System?

It's simple we dont have to's picture

It's simple we dont have to search for linux now it's everywhere!

The problem with your entire premise

Portland SEO's picture

Linux has many names now... notice the decline started when Ubuntu kicked off. I don't search for "Linux how to" anymore, I search for "Ubuntu how to"

A far more interesting trend is to compare iphone to android. Clearly iphone still has a larger market share despite the Nielson numbers.

iPhone single platform vs. Android swarm

rkhalloran's picture

On what do you base your claim "despite the Neilson numbers"? Certainly, Apple as a single vendor has more handsets out there than any *specific* vendor of Android handsets. Clump them all together though (Motorola, HTC, LG, etc etc) and the two *platforms* of iOS and Android are roughly on par, with Android starting to take a lead given the multiple sources.

I stopped looking

Mr. Pink's picture

I just got sick and tired of looking for how-to's. If it doesn't work then screw it. I'm not wasting my time anymore.

you sure showed us!

Anonymous's picture

you sure showed us!

Linux searches

John Kerr's picture

This is interesting. Linux over the last few years has become easier to use so that could account for the lower search numbers on the word Linux. However keep in mind that Ubuntu surpassed Linux as a search word as well.


John Kerr
Guelph, Ontario