Linux Market Share

In the course of a normal work day I take several little breaks to check the news. On my list of news sites are Slashdot, Linux Journal and Linux Today. Frequently I see something that gives me an idea for an article. Sometimes I even find an article on a topic that I was planning to write about myself. Such was the case today when I came across this well-written piece from the Royal Pingdom Blog referenced on Linux Today. It’s about the failure of desktop Linux to break the 1% market share barrier, and I confess that it left me a little depressed. But I decided to add my two cents on the subject anyhow.

Here’s a chart showing the market share of the major OS distributions over the past year, courtesy of, the same place from which the author got his data:

The Pingdom article suggested that there were several reasons for Linux not having gained greater market share than it has:

  • there are too many distributions,
  • there are too many GUIs,
  • the various Linux desktop products are not polished enough,
  • consistency and usability issues exist with the various Linux distros, and
  • the various suppliers of Linux distributions focus too much on heavy duty tech-savvy users, and not enough on normal everyday users.

I pretty much agree with all of these points. Except...

I use Windows, and I use Mac OS X. The Windows UI (XP and Vista, more than Windows 7) is notoriously inconsistent. Polished? Not a word I usually use to describe a Windows product.

Mac OSX? It’s UI is certainly different than Windows, and it seems to be more consistent than XP. It’s also less crash-prone. But...

I’d hold my Mint 9 Gnome desktop up against either of those other two in terms of stability, constancy, and that metric which has not yet been mentioned: security. Usability is harder to judge because that is determined more by one’s familiarity with the product than anything else.

Which brings me to my final point: I think the main reason that Linux has not penetrated the desktop market more than it has is because people tend to stick with what they are used to. So, I guess I’ll just have to get used to being depressed, because people are what they are, and learning a new OS is just is not that high on most folks’ “things to do” list.



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statistics, and more statistics

Callum's picture

If there are:
+ fedora: ~3.5m users (that's only for F12:
+ ubuntu: ~12m users (

and that's just 2 distros of which one is probably very much under-counted. Are you saying that there 1.5bn desktops in use? I very much doubt that 1 in 5 humans have their own desktop computer. The numbers are just not right.

Learning OS's: 8.5 million people decided to learn Android and 41m have learnt iOS fort the iPhone so it can't be that hard.

Simple Statistics

Ano-Nymous's picture

My guess:

70 % of the users just use the computer for web browsing, sending eMails, viewing pictures, standard office tools and perhaps watching videos/DVD.
30 % use some "special" software.

The 30 % do not bother to install Linux, because as long as they have windows running, they know that their special software will work and that's all they need. So why invest time to install and learn Linux with the risk that in the end your favourite software doesn't even run?

Most of the 70%, (say, 50% of all users) do not even know what an OS is. Maybe half of the people who actually know what an OS is have got too much money, so they buy a Mac. Of the remaining 10%, only 10% (that is 1% of all) really care about it so much that they invest the effort to install a Linux system by themselves. Most of them like it, so they stick to it. :-)

Well said ! It's too bad for

Anonymous-Oliv's picture

Well said !

It's too bad for the 70% because any current linux distribution can do the work perfectly.

I installed Ubuntu in dual boot 3 years ago. Used it for 2 month and went back to windows. then installed it again 2 years ago. this time I stuck to Ubuntu. Then last year I bought a netbook. The first thing I did was to reformat the HDD and intall Ubuntu. No problems.

Do we need more aggressive promotion for linux?

Anonymous's picture

Doug pointed out a good point:

the main reason that Linux has not penetrated the desktop market more than it has is because people tend to stick with what they are used to.

Most of those who have tried installing linux but then replacing it with windose due to hardware compatibility issues, not to mention software issues. Many distros have active forums with solutions for most of the possible issues that users will encounter. Nonetheless, most novice will turn their head back to windose before googling for solutions.

The alliance from Dell and Ubuntu has more or less solved the hardware issues. Yet its doubtful how many have ever heard of such ubuntu installed machines and who would overcome the psychological barrier to make their first step spending money for it?

Looking at Apple's tv ads, the message is precisely that using OS X makes you look cool while using windose is stupid. Linux conveys an impression still way too techy. Okay, windose is not easy to use either.

So first of all, more hardware companies and distros alliance are needed to provide linux preinstalled machines. Then its a matter of how to establish a "feel" for linux to be adopted by a larger consumer segment.

Up to a point, perhaps the Chrome OS is the answer. We have seen how Android sweeps the market and expels wm.

Let's Show pirated windows

Anonymous's picture

Let's Show pirated windows separately. I feel most of the pirated windows users will switch to linux if forced to buy a genuine Windows copy...

Windows and Piracy - the achillies heal of Linux

Anonymous's picture

While in China for a business trip, several (locals I work with) know I advocate Linux, and pointed out in some shops "see when you can get Windows for $4, why use Linux?" Now of course I got an email yesterday they are 'having some computer problems'..

But the point is valid. Microsoft is helping bolster Linux with their WGA lock-down while rampant on-line-download-for-free copies makes the Linux argument of low cost difficult to counter. (I often wonder how many of the pirated copies were originally released by Microsoft just for this purpose..?). So what will win?

The keys to Linux are in stability and software. OpenOffice has some features lacking in MSOffice (like 'export to pdf' that I use all the time). Firefox, Gimp+Inkscape are all important and Firefox has forced IE to improve. Ubuntu is updated more frequently than either Windows or OSX - so any problems are more quickly resolved. And Freedom from lock-in is important.

No one could compete with Windows until there was something freer than no-cost. And without the risk of using a "Pirate Copy" that might do funny things with your data.

Open Office cant export to PDF YES IT CAN

ChrisO's picture

To Anonymous who went to China on a business trip,
What version of Open Office have you used,from the posting date of your article,
August 25 2010,I would have thought you would have used Open Office 3.2.1 which can export to PDF, read MS formats and many other file formats that Microsoft cant.

Chris, read what Anonymous wrote

Anonymous's picture

Open Office 3.2.1 which can export to PDF, read MS formats and many other file formats that Microsoft cant.

Read again. It was that OOo can export to PDF which MS Office can't do.

Brillant Flash of the Obvious

Brotherred's picture

"Let's Show pirated windows separately. I feel most of the pirated windows users will switch to Linux if forced to buy a genuine Windows copy..."

Ditto that and thank you to the original poster. This is a bit of a elephant in the room.


Rich Hunn's picture

I'm running Mint9 Gnome as well, and still have to maintain an XP machine
for some of the OEM sizing and tech programs that aren't easily Wine'd.
But that being said I'm running Railroad Tycoon II full screen on a 25"
monitor under Crossover 9. The thing won't even run on XP and it's the
Windows version. If you took a couple Dell machines running Ubuntu and
put them in the mix at Best Buy I do believe your conversion rate would
skyrocket. Most people aren't running esoteric off the wall software and
for those 75% (or whatever) Windows users actually seeing Linux run would
convert a major percentage of them.


Doug.Roberts's picture

A couple of commenters have mentioned keeping a second machine around running Windows for those cases where there is only a Windows app to do a task. My backup Windows machine is XP running in Sun (now Oracle's) Virtualbox. Performance is pretty good, you might consider it.


99% of people do not install an OS

Anonymous's picture

Most of them buy a new computer when the OS that came with it breaks after a few years. Some go to their computer guy to reinstall what they had.
If computers shipped with Linux, especally if the Windows tax was deducted from their price, they would sell. They did sell well when the netbooks started, but now you can't find a decent non-windows netbook on the market.
The only reason for windows market share is OEMs. The rest is marginal.

It's the vendors

Anonymous's picture

I agree, almost totally. It's the OEM's, overwhelmingly. But it's also the retail outlets. The average, non-technical computer user can't walk into a retail store and find a computer on the shelf with Linux installed. So he/she does the same as in any other retail purchasing setting, i.e. buys what is offered, which is Windows.

You might say that's because Windows is what people want. Not true. We found out it's not true during the time when netbooks with Linux installed were available.

This is the REAL reason why so few people use Linux

TonyP's picture

Don't look any further. This is the real reason why so few people use Linux and will be the hardest to crack. I'm sure the cost of a Windows OS to an OEM like Dell is so small these days that they hardly worry about it. For them to install and support a Linux OS is probably almost as expensive.

Cost of OS and Applications

Tom Nielsen's picture

It has always been about the cost and applications. Back in the 1980's when DOS ruled the desktop, who could complain about a $30.00 or $40.00 OS not too mention $600.00 or so for dBase III? As Microsoft captured the OEM market, so followed the Applications development. Would it make any sense to follow another avenue? Application cost at the DOS/Windows level has always been a relatively inexpensive approach to getting the things you want .... especially since you are not the one that had to do the development.

Which leads me to my next point. In general, one of the most remarkable things about the Open Source movement and Linux specifically, is the wonderful ability to peer into the "system and see how it works." This by the way, is the very philosophy that has lead to a incredible development that has brought both the server and desktop systems up to where they are now.

Depending on how you look at it, in terms of development, the common computer users have never been interested in development ..... they never will. This is why the Mac has always had a market share, albeit costly, compared to other systems, cost is a large factor when it comes to common user buyers. Enter Microsoft systems and applications from DOS to Windows 7. Both the Enterprise and Home users are willing to "buy" OS's and applications, this is obvious by the multi billion markets the have. If things can be made convenient enough and be inexpensive "and" non technical (that's a big one) then you have a vast market and one that Microsoft has always been able to hold on to.

I run PCLinuxOS on my desktop and love it (I started with Slackware 8 in 2000). Not just from a "cost" issue but also from the technical side. I also run a non GUI Ubuntu file and print server, which has yet to fail me. However there are applications I use that simply will not work in Linux, short of running a VM and a big performance hit. Hence, I use a dual boot 6 year old laptop to run the important Windows applications. It is true that there are some good ones in Linux, but the Windows applications "I" use are for different purposes. In addition, even though I use HPLIP in Linux (which works pretty good, by the way), I have never had the capability that I do with the proper drivers in Windows. The functionality I have in Windows is just simply not there in Linux regardless of the distribution.

I have always contended that Linux on the Desktop is fine "if" you have access to the Net. However when compared to Windows, if you don't have access, you have limited applications and functionality. One of the huge jump starts for Microsoft, back in the DOS days was the volume of "usable" applications, this is what put it leaps ahead of the MAC. This has always kept them dominating the desktop, and probably always will. The key word is "usable" not from the developers standpoint but from the common user. It is the user who really determines the market, and because most of them are non technical, they will always take a non technical approach, in both the OS as well as applications.

If it wasn't for the techie guys and gals out there, Linux would never make it to the Desktop of the common users, there are just too many problems, although we have come along ways in 10 years or so. I have 20 or so installs of Linux on customers/friends machines myself, and it has worked out well for them, especially with regard to virus's and what have you .... but they are dual boot systems for the same reasons that I have mentioned previously. After a lengthy test of these installs, I have backed off since people seem to be unwilling to "pay" for services. But this is not just because of "free" Linux, it seems to be the mentality of the computer industry as a whole .... be it support for a MAC, Windows or Linux, at least at the consumer, home user, level.

Where does this leave us then? Well, that's a good question, I'm of the same opinion as Gary Kildall of Intergalactic Digital Research, who once said "I think the market is big enough, we can all share and have a piece of the pie". This is not a verbatim quote but you get the idea. When Bill Gates stood up and said "There will be only one company the rules", no body ever responded with "Are you sure you really want to?" or to put it more succinctly, are you going to really eat that whole pie? ;)


you got the point Tom, the

Anonymous's picture

you got the point Tom, the pie is large enough that windose, mac, linux & etc can coexist for different users with different needs.

It's the applications, stupid!

Anonymous's picture

People want professional applications. To edit pictures, video, music. To play a game. They are willing to pay for applications. But they want them easy to use. And powerful at the same time.

I've used Linux for over 15 years. Switched because I wanted Lightroom. Under Linux I found 6 applications which did almost what I want. None printed properly. Initially I found it hard to shell out the money when there were these almost-great free open source alternative. But now I'm very happy I did.

Competition, choices

Doug.Roberts's picture

I'm actually glad that there are applications for Windows that satisfy a user requirement which cannot be supplied by Linux. Competition is a good thing, and as the past has shown us if there is enough demand for an application, it will eventually show up in Linux. Competition keeps developers on their toes.

BTW, did you try Lightroom under Wine?

Personally, however, I've found that Linux apps handle all my image and music editing requirements quite well, and I do a lot of both. See this article for a description of this type of Linux usage.


viruses PERIOD

markh's picture

I used linux back in the late 90's but abandoned due to hardware support nightmares.....I revisited it a while back for my PS3 and then tried it on my desktop for fun.

I AM DONE WITH WINDOWS.....I used to plan on format/re-install about every 6 months (or live with the viruses until I was forced to format).

I run linux on everything now...I even switched my mom to it and run wine for a few programs she has to have.

everyone that I have switched to linux loves it (no viruses DUH!)

printer support is a huge problem but from my experience as our office's IT guy is that I am only buying laser printers from now on (inkjet is a ripoff) thank goodness for HPLIP.

BTW....I am on Kubuntu right now, I have 2 Ubuntu boxes at home 2 debian servers at work (hylafax is AWESOME) and I have my mom running fedora LXDE spin....and have switched about 4 friends to linux as well.

As fas as the "no good software" thing goes as long as you dont need the adobe CS suites we are fine....I use GIMP Kdenlive Bluefish Inkscape....and its all free. I even have some winfriends using the windows ports of some of these apps.

Vista pushed alot of us over the edge and I HATE win7....if M$ doesnt fix this 10 year old RPC wormhole soon they are going to be feeling some hurt out there.

I use PC/OS myself

Fred McKinney's picture

I've been using Linux for the last 5 1/2 years, and honestly, I never thought I would EVER find a distribution that can properly detect the Broadcom wireless card in our laptop. I discovered that Mepis does, but 512 MB of RAM wasn't enough for its KDE desktop, as it ground the live CD to a halt. A few days later, I gave PC/OS a try (I had been shopping for a new distro after some issues I had with Mint -- sorry, Nixnine!), which uses Xfce for its desktop (my favorite!) -- and it too detected that Broadcom wireless card! Needless to say, I was in Linux HEAVEN! I liked it so much I switched to that on my desktop unit too, even though I connect to the Internet via a wired cable with it.

Mind you, getting the Broadcom wireless card to work in the laptop can be done with just about any distro you care to name, and in fact, after a LOT of trial and error, I got it to work in Xubuntu once. But since PC/OS is one of very few distros to properly detect and configure that out of the box, it's now my official distro of choice. Oh, and it's Ubuntu-based plus is made right here in America in Henderson, North Carolina. IMHO, it's a shame that it's not as famous as Ubuntu, Mint, PCLinuxOS, Fedora, and the like -- because it DOES deserve that kind of fame and recognition.

Fred in St. Louis

What about PCLinuxOS?

Patrick G Horneker's picture

For those of you who have had problems with installing Linux, you might want to consider the PCLinuxOS distribution. I find this to be among the easiest to install and maintain of all Linux distributions. On my Toshiba laptop, it is also the most trouble free of all distributions. I use the KDE version, but you can also get this with several other desktops of your choosing, and it's American made (Houston, TX).


nixnine's picture

I use Linux Mint 9. Up until this year I had been a Windows lemming, running with the pack, always running over ledges with the system and its quirky crashes. I tried various Linux distros, first from LiveCD and then dual booting when I figured out how to do that. I had become so fed up with Windows and multiple problems with the system that I looked to Linux as a solution. And after months of trial, it was.

Grant you learning the system was at times a task, with many problems which I did manage to solve with help from the Linux community. Which might I say is very knowledgeable. I had problems similar to Aron's, but with a little research and help from linuxmint-help, I overcame the issues. My hp printers wouldn't work either. But installing the HPLIP package solved that, and know my prints come out even better. Don't know if that has anything to do with HPLIP, but I have noticed a big difference.

I am no computer expert, but I am very satisfied with my install of Mint9. This distro is the best that I have come across. And as for programs, I have found very good Linux alternatives to Windows programs. Of course the only difference being that I didn't have to take out a second mortgage to purchase them.

And as for "selling" Linux, well, I have installed Linux on several friends' computers. Why? Because I pushed and prodded? No. They saw what I had. They noted the lack of problems. They asked questions about "my" system. I told them the truth. I changed systems. My wife and kids have adapted very well. The change was a shock at first, but know they feel as comfy with it as I do. My 8yr old calls it the cool system.

It is a cool system. Beautiful, engaging, challenging, inviting. You don't have to try to "sell" it.

It speaks for itself.

Then you merely want it.

Simple: Linux does not work well enough

Aron Boss's picture

It is so simple: People do not want do be a computer expert to get a machine working.

I tried to convert my family to Ubuntu 10.04. We have five machines.

Daughter 1 studies design and needs Adobe CS and other special software. No way to get the special stuff running in Wine. She bounced back to XP and remove Ubuntu to reclaim to space.

Daughter 2 refused completely, seeing daughter 1's problems. I need MSN. I am learning to get my driver license. I need special software. No way she would even try Ubuntu after the problems of daughter 1.

Daughter 3 is younger. Had a virus on her machine, a Dell Latitude 505. Reformated the disk and installed Ubuntu 10.04. Beng! System would not run. Turns out the Intel I855 chipset was not supported. A PPA driver version made the system start, but until today she can not running videos. The system is not crashing any more. Hurray!

Getting the machine to sleep is simple. However, it will never wake up again.

Printing to a HP OfficeJet G95 does not work. That is, the spoolfile just vanishes. Daddy can not help her!

My lovely wife is more relaxed as long as everything works. However, the machines does not print. Same problem as daughter 3, different computer type. Network is sometime turned of after coming back from sleep state. She does not understand why the printing bug is not resolved after 5 months.

My own Thinkpad W700 works correctly and prints on the OfficeJet G95. Only Telepathy with butterfly happens to disturb the network connection with the Fritzbox 7270. No network traffic is possible until we restart the Fritzbox 7270. I had to remove telepathy and install the latest PPA Pidgin version. I can not read some smart cards which Windows7 reads without problems. I do not have support for the fingerprint reader, the color calibrator and the disk protection. The Wacom digitizer is working, but is very difficult to use.

Bugs exist in Launchpad for all problems. And I did skip all small problems like cut and paste between programs, icons with wrong backgrounds, etc.

Tell me, dear Linux friends, how can I get my family to love Linux software and "sell" it to there friends?

Aron Boss

Linux works more than well enough

WellJustMe's picture

If you buy supported machine ( and come to my mind; dell, hp, acer and asus are second). If not, then you have to know what you are doing. Have you tried installing windows on a Mac? Or a Mac on any PC out there?
Having said that, I think you have either being very unlucky in terms of hardware compatability or just had a messed up install.
You as many others actually request that Linux does much more than you would expect from Windows. Which is fair if you go through a major change of OS, but you have to be aware of that.
BTW, my house is all Linux- wife, son, my quad core and the media box. In addition just bought a Linux netbook for my dad.
All quite happy so far. And me too since I have a lot less support issues to deal with (screaming wife after a business meeting at 2PM, because VISAT OD-ed on bad code?)

Hey Aron, Ubuntu does have

Anonymous's picture

Hey Aron,

Ubuntu does have some quirks. Even though it is the most massively used Distro, I would strongly recommend trying something else.

My recommendation is OpenSuSE 11.3. Everything works for me out of the box apart for one machine where I had to add one parameter at boot. Very solid distro.

Mint is good too. Ubuntu based.

Good points

Doug.Roberts's picture


You made a number or excellent points which, IMO, explain some of the reasons that Linux has not made deeper penetration into the desktop market. I've been fortunate in that the last four Linux desktop installations that I have done were all fairly painless. Everything basically just worked after I was done. You might be interested in reading about those experiences here.

To be fair, if people were required to do their own Windows OS installation instead of purchasing the hardware with it already installed, there would be a lot fewer Windows desktops/laptops out there. I've done Windows installs, and I find that Linux installations are typically easier and faster.

Finally, a plug for my favorite Linux distro: Linux Mint 9. Mint provides the most problem-free Linux installation experience of all the distros that I have tried.


The problem..

Amir's picture

IMO the problem isn't the OS, the problem is what i could run on my OS as a job to serve it.
On Windows there are thousands of good program either free or commercial, the user has a lot of good choices in any categories..
I love Linux and FOSS, and its good to mention that we have lack of good software to use.
Correct me if I'm wrong.

I thought windose is lacking

Anonymous's picture

I thought windose is lacking of good free / opensource software. (I'm a linux home user for more than 8 years.)

please name categories.

turn_self_off's picture

please name categories.

where was my survey?

Gavin's picture

I don't ever remember participating in a poll or survey about the number of Linux desktops I support for a major university. Are these numbers based on systems sold with Linux pre-installed?

All of the "Linux desktops" I support came pre-installed with FreeDOS or Windows. So all of the Linux laptops, servers and desktops that I support where never sold as Linux, so how can there be an accurate count???


jimbob343's picture

it all depends on where you get your information, there are lots of linux boxes that never go online, lots that dual-boot, plus over 50% of the web servers run off a linux box.when that is taken into consideration it is probally closer to microsofts 8% count. altho that number is not writen in stone by them either, with statistics it is just based off a set demagraphic, weather its ppl that use this search engen, or ppl that visit those sites. plus like mentioned there of browsers that dont return information, or ones that return fake information, like at home my computer is set to sendinformation that it is a google cwraller. all you can take from this sort of thing is that 1. linux is not as popular as we wish it was, and 2. there will never be a trully acurate count of who is running what. thanks to offline pcs, piraters, tweekers, ect.

it all depends on where you

jimbob343's picture

it all depends on where you get your information. over half web servers run Linux. this sounds more like it was directed at normal end-users. i would more likely go with microsoft's 8% since they did take that into consideration. but either way Linux is not as popular as it should be.

Err... Well...

Anonymous's picture

The issue is not just so simple. If you had read half the comments in that article, you would realize that those numbers are ridiculously inaccurate.

MS themselves projected an estimated 8% market share of Linux on the desktop.

The main reasons I can think of? Simple:

1. Stats do not take into account machines running noscript plugins for browsers in Linux- and A LOT OF PEOPLE RUN IT!
2. OEM reports do not include machines bought with Windows that were wiped and had Linux thrown on them.
3. There are a lot of machines not connected to the Internet with Linux on them (My friend has at least one, for example)- and this is quite common I've found.
4. Not really a point, but something interesting. On a rival stat site, you will see Linux market share at roughly 4%. w3 website, can't recall exactly which one.


> 1. Stats do not take into

Anonymous's picture

> 1. Stats do not take into account machines running noscript plugins for browsers in Linux- and A LOT OF PEOPLE RUN IT!

What does noscript have to do with anything? Web browsers send the user agent information to the server with normal HTTP GET requests. No Javacript or other scripts required. Most of the web user statistics are collected from these server logs. Besides, if MS is correct and desktop Linux market share is 8 % and they presumably use the web as much as anyone else, then more than 80 % of Linux users would need to be using noscript if that were to explain the 1 % vs. 8 % discrepancy. I find that hard to believe, and the same goes for user agent spoofing. Granted, there are biases in web user statistics, but all of the published numbers with reasonably good sampling put Linux under 2 %. There's a pretty good chance that Android alone might soon surpass this. The combined share of the iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad) is already equal to or larger than that of desktop Linux systems.


Anonymous's picture

"If you had read half the comments in that article, "

Oh, nice, that's just what we need: some arrogant little prick acting like a complete jerk.

"On a rival stat site, you will see Linux market share at roughly 4%. w3 website, can't recall exactly which one."

Way to go buddy. It sounds like you really know what you're talking about.


Haha. Wow :)

Anonymous's picture

I lol'd when I read your comment. I apologize if I did come off as a prick, or for that matter, arrogant. Ultimately though it feels like you're just trying to troll me.

Please. Troll harder.

This is the website I was talking about:

Actually, being a humble Telecommunications engineer and having an IT background of 17 years... I feel I am somewhat entitled to 'knowing what I'm talking about'.

I also understand statistics (Had to take it alongside several calculus courses *Shudders*) and how poorly they portray the truth.

But, it sounds like you're an expert. Please, enlighten us. In what way does it sound like I -do not- know what I am talking about?

In what way am I an arrogant little prick?

If anything, thus far it seems that you have been a jerk in response to my comment.

Now, now

Doug.Roberts's picture

Let's keep it friendly, folks. No need to flame each other.

But, if you must, at least follow the flaming suggestions presented