Readers' Choice Awards 2009
The Linux Journal Readers' Choice Awards have become an annual ritual, almost as fun as the holiday season. Our editorial team members can't wait to get their hands on the results to see what products and tools from the Linux space are keeping you productive, satisfied and wowed. And, who better to ask than our readers, the most talented, informed and (nearly always for the better) opinionated group of Linux experts anywhere? These characteristics are what make the awards such a great snapshot of what's hot and what's not in Linux.
Before diving into the results, let me explain that the results, although insightful, inherently fail to capture the true diversity of preferences that exist in our community. I wish we had space to show you the chaotic yet amazing mish-mash of responses to each question. As we try to lasso you into organized responses, you are curiously galloping off in pursuit of your category-busting solution as we hang on to the rope for dear life. The reality is that you are always experimenting; your opinions are fluid, and filling in virtual bubbles doesn't fully explain the nuance of your relationship to your tools.
This is a survey of big trends, and the trend underlying them all is that you embrace lots of tools. One respondent summed it up with “All of the above, many of the above”, and another exclaimed, “Variety is the spice, baby!”
Once again, in this year's competition, we designated only one winner per category, with strong contenders receiving Honorable Mention awards. For instance, in the categories where a cluster of formidable contenders followed the outright winner, we designated up to three honorable mentions. Besides a few exceptions, a product or service had to get at least 10% of the vote for Honorable Mention status.
Here then, ladies and gentlemen, are your 2009 Linux Journal Readers' Choice Awards.
The Ubuntu phenomenon, even by Linux standards, is truly paradigm-shifting and it doesn't appear that it will be tanking any time soon. In the 2008 Readers' Choice Awards, we dubbed the ubiquitous Ubuntu “the big distro that did” for unexpectedly leaving its myriad rivals as mere dots in the rear-view mirror. In the 2009 tally, Ubuntu deserves an “Energizer Bunny Award” for winning the Favorite Primary Linux Distro category, increasing its popularity and becoming untouchable for the time being. Ubuntu and its related Kubuntu and Edubuntu siblings raised their vote tally from 37% in last year's awards to 45% this year. At whose expense is Ubuntu gaining? Although Mandriva tumbled most dramatically from 14% to 2%, Fedora and Novell/SUSE hemorrhaged more than a few percentage points. Meanwhile, Red Hat, CentOS and Debian ticked up a few points from last year, the latter enough to warrant Honorable Mention with its 10% share of your vote.
During the past year, GNOME has reached majority rule status, with 53% of you electing it your favorite desktop environment. This trend is despite the breakneck development of KDE 4 during the past year. Although GNOME garnered only a few more votes than it did in 2008, KDE's vote count slipped as you've warmed to Xfce, Fluxbox and Enlightenment. The long and influential coattails of Ubuntu can only make any presidential candidate green with envy.
Firefox takes first prize as both your Favorite Web Browser for 2009 and the most extreme “category crusher” of this competition. No other application (besides the competitor-less Apache) racked up a higher share of votes (87%) than Firefox, although OpenOffice.org wasn't far behind. Who can argue, as Firefox keeps getting faster and accumulates more useful extensions? This year's surprise gainer was the historically underappreciated Opera browser, which ratcheted up from 5% to 8% on the heels of its impressive 9.5 and 9.6 releases. The worthy Konqueror and the browsers based on the Firefox Gecko engine (for example, Flock and Epiphany) were left behind in the catchall “Other” category. How will this category look next year? Look for an inevitable battle royale if Google can deliver a polished Chrome for Linux in time for you to give it a test drive.
Mozilla Thunderbird (38%)
Gmail Web Client (31%)
Congratulations to Mozilla Thunderbird for its third consecutive win in the Favorite E-Mail Client category with 38% of the vote. The “Holy how did that happen, Batman?” award, as well as Honorable Mention, go to the runner up, Gmail, which got 11% more of your votes than last year, while Thunderbird dropped 7%. Meanwhile, other non-Web-based clients, Evolution and KMail, are ever more the favorites of fewer. Is the trend toward Web-based clients inexorable, or can the non-Gmails of the world find a formula to stanch the decline?
No news here, gang. OpenOffice.org, bolstered no doubt by its recent 3.0 release, retains its crown as your Favorite Office Program with the same share of your vote as last year, 85%. The alternatives, AbiWord and KOffice, each similarly continue to be the favorites of merely 3% of you. As with Firefox, there seems to be some sort of correlation between a program's cross-platform characteristics (should any exist) and its category-crusher status. Honorable Mention for most definitive response in this category goes to “I hate all office programs”.
In this year's competition, we decided it made sense to split up audio-related programs into two categories. The first is Favorite Audio Tool—that is, program for creating, manipulating and modifying audio streams. The second is Favorite Audio Player—that is, program for playing and organizing existing audio streams. The cross-platform Audacity sound recorder and editor is yet another—cross-platform rule holds—category crusher in the Favorite Audio Tool department, garnering top marks from 73% of you. Although the applications LMMS and Ardour each have a critical mass of adherents, each is the favorite audio tool of only 6% of you.
Although alternatives have knocked Amarok back a few points from last year, its 36% share of the vote tally helped the renowned audio player for KDE remain undisputed champion in the Favorite Audio Player category. Many of you also are aficionados of the audio players Rhythmbox and XMMS, each of which received enough votes to warrant Honorable Mention. It's interesting to see KDE flagging as your favorite desktop, yet the KDE audio player, admittedly more feature-packed, has double the support of the GNOME audio player, Rhythmbox.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new champion in the Favorite Media Player category. VLC, which last year landed in a close second place behind MPlayer, won the category in a photo finish by a single percentage point. Both players play pretty much any format you can throw at them, making usability a key factor in your decision. Thus, more of you are opting for the single-console approach of VLC rather than MPlayer. Other players that recorded respectable results were Totem (9%), Kaffeine (8%), SMPlayer (6%) and xine (5%).
Nothing changed in the Favorite Communications Tool category. Once again, Pidgin Internet Messenger, the Swiss Army knife-esque messaging tool formerly known as Gaim, took top honors with a 43% share of your votes. Pidgin users appreciate the ability to monitor all of their messaging accounts in 15 different protocols. Competitor Kopete, which slipped from its Honorable Mention status from last year, does only 11 protocols. Meanwhile, the closed-source Skype retained its Honorable Mention laurels by earning 18% of your votes. That may be its ceiling until its improbable open-source resurrection, as a sizable contingent of us will never fill the bubble of any closed-source application, regardless of how good it is.
The legendary GIMP remains your unrivaled choice for Favorite Graphics/Design Tool, once again with 76% of the votes. It appears though, that the vector-graphics application Inkscape is emerging from the pack of graphics applications as a new favorite. Inkscape left the single-digit vote-getters to reach 11% of your votes, enough to win it Honorable Mention in the category. Are the impressive, mature programs like Blender too specialized to warrant your vote? Maybe the category is too broad. One write-in voter exclaimed, “You're making me choose between GIMP and Blender?!”, and another explained, “Blender, GIMP and Inkscape are totally different tools for different purposes. They're all my favorites in their respective categories”. Points well taken.
Although much has changed in the crowded category of Favorite Digital Photo Management Tool, one broad trend appears to hold. If a Google application is around, it is likely to be slicing and dicing its rivals. In the photo management category, the slicer-dicer is Picasa, and the sliced and diced is digiKam. In the 2008 awards, Picasa and digiKam were neck and neck with 25% of the votes. This year, Picasa wins the category, leaving everyone else in the dust with its 34% of the vote. F-Spot (at 17%), digiKam (at 13%) and gThumb (at 11%) are still all popular enough to deserve Honorable Mention. However, Picasa may continue to surge as unique features, such as the ability to sync photos between one's PC and Web-based albums seamlessly, make it a tough act to follow.
The more things change, the more they stay the same in the Favorite Text Editor category. Vi wins again with a solid 36%, with gedit and Kate taking Honorable Mention honors. Emacs and nano also are popular but just missed the cut.
You left little doubt about who deserves to win Favorite Version Control System, a new category in the 2009 Readers' Choice Awards. Subversion is the favorite of 47% of you; CVS and git win Honorable Mention at 16% and 15%, respectively.
MySQL's move over to Sun Microsystems doesn't appear to have dampened your admiration for the legendary open-source database. Both this year and last year, you deemed MySQL your Favorite Database, with 61% of your votes this year. PostgreSQL also shared a similar fate as last year, registering 18%, enough for Honorable Mention. SQLite, Oracle and Firebird all polled in the single digits.
Hyperic HQ (15%)
Nagios was not only recently dubbed one of the most important open-source apps of all time, but it also is the winner of the new Readers' Choice category, Favorite Linux Monitoring Application. A slim majority 51% of you use Nagios to keep close tabs on your networks of all shapes, sizes and levels of complexity. Most of you not using Nagios opt for the Honorable Mention candidates, Hyperic HQ (with 15%) and up.time (11%). Ganglia and GroundWork also garnered respectable votes in the single digits.
Last year, we created discord when we split programming languages into two categories: Favorite Programming Language and Favorite Scripting Language. Then, we limited your choices according to our own definition of each. In order to shield ourselves from the avalanche of “WTFs” (whew, we succeeded!), we gave you more latitude to decide which is which. Therefore, the results look a bit different from last year. In an interesting twist, Guido van Rossum's venerable Python, which took First Place in last year's Favorite Scripting Language category, wins this year's Favorite Programming Language award with a hefty 20% of your votes. Close behind in the Honorable Mention group are your other favorites, with few surprises: C++ with 19%, Java with 17%, C with 13% and Perl with 12%.
The results of the Favorite Scripting Language illustrate the diversity of opinions on what is a scripting language. Although the prosaic workhorse bash (shell) wins the category with 28% of the tally, three other quite different languages follow close behind in the Honorable Mention category: the Web-centric PHP, the flexible Python and the Swiss Army chainsaw of programming languages, Perl.
SSH and X (40%)
Your inaugural choice for Favorite GUI Remote Access or Network Computing Solution is clear. SSH and X wins hands-down with a commanding 40% share of the votes. Meanwhile, a hefty chunk of you choose to go graphical, using variants of VNC, such as TightVNC, RealVNC and UltraVNC. In fact, if you add those three user groups together, you're just shy of winning the category. TightVNC, rdesktop and RealVNC are all popular enough to share the platform for Honorable Mention.
Yet another new category in this year's awards is Favorite Linux IDE, which the ubiquitous Eclipse won commandingly and unsurprisingly with 42% of the votes cast. The fact that in Eclipse one can work in a lean environment and add and subtract an incredible array functionality with its myriad modules has closed the deal for nearly a majority of you. At the same time, the second largest vote-getter was “Other”. Clearly the Linux developer community cannot be pigeonholed.
Adobe Air (21%)
When it comes to your Favorite Platform for Developing Rich Internet Apps (yet another new category for 2009), you are less decided than in the Linux IDE category. Although Adobe Air is the favorite of the most of you at 21%, you also are using Gears and JavaFX in solid numbers, 18% and 15%, respectively, among others. Mono Moonlight and OpenLaszlo also were close to the 10% mark. Will one of these tools break away to be the next Eclipse in a few years? Tune in to this space next year to find out.
Frozen Bubble (17%)
Tux Racer, also Planet Penguin Racer and Extreme Tux Racer (10%)
With some barely perceptible percentage changes, the Favorite Linux Game category remains the same as last year, led by Frozen Bubble and with Honorable Mention going to Doom and the Tux Racer series. Besides being consistent, the Favorite Game category is characterized by having the largest share of “Other” votes, with 27%, and the wittiest comments. One of you commented “Keeping it old school with SCUMM[VM] games”. On the flip side, a surprising number of you also commented that you “have no time for games” or “don't like games”. Meanwhile, this writer is wondering whether the many commercial game companies that now make Linux versions will ever break through with a runaway hit that could give Frozen Bubble a challenge one day.
We've been watching VirtualBox for a few years now, wondering when its popularity would finally match its technical prowess. Well, 2009 is finally VirtualBox's time in the sun, as this year it toppled VMware to win Favorite Virtualization Solution. Last year, VirtualBox received roughly half the votes of VMware (20% vs. 39%). This year, VirtualBox won the matchup 32% to 30%. VMware and Wine, thus, took Honorable Mention honors. Xen fell just short of 10% of the vote. [See Marcel Gagné's Cooking with Linux on page 26 for more on VirtualBox.]
Simple Linux Backup (14%)
Once again, in the backup department we differentiated between comprehensive applications, or systems (this category), and specific utilities (see Favorite Backup Utility below). Regarding the Favorite Backup System category, most of you continue to prefer the same systems as last year, although the deck chairs have been rearranged a bit. This year, the open-source application Amanda took the victory lap, which Simple Linux Backup took last year. Still, the latter won Honorable Mention this year along with Bacula (yet again) for network-based backup. Favorite Backup System also has a variety of write-in votes with some variation of “roll my own solution”.
Though rsync and tar are your perennial favorites for Favorite Backup Utility, this year, the two flip-flopped positions, with tar taking the crown last year and rsync taking it this year. rsync is the favorite backup utility of 47% of you to tar's 34%.
As the fate of Ubuntu and siblings slopes ever upward, so too trends the popularity of apt, the principal package management system for Ubuntu and Debian. Once again, apt, with 37% of the votes, is the clear and even more dominant victor as Favorite Package Management Application. More of you also are turning to Synaptic, the groovy front end to apt, to keep your system loaded with your favorite programs. The classic RPM (10%) and its amigo Yum (13%) declined slightly from last year, as more of you are leaving Fedora and Novell/SUSE in favor of Ubuntu.
No surprise that the blog publishing application WordPress once again wins the category Favorite Content Management System with 25% of the vote. In the Honorable Mention department, your same two favorite Web content managers, Joomla! and Drupal, are present only to flip in popularity. This year, Joomla! reached an impressive 23% to Drupal's 19%. Drupal got our vote—LinuxJournal.com runs on it.
As with last year, the thought arises in Favorite Web Server category of whether we should just ask “Do you use the Apache Web server, yes or no?” and leave it at that. Apache wins again in 2009 with 89% of your votes.
Talk about a meteoric rise, Contegix went from one write-in vote in 2008 to champion of the Favorite Linux-Friendly Web Hosting Company category in 2009. Otherwise, four well-known names have remained among your perennial favorites for years, namely Rackspace, GoDaddy.com, DreamHost and 1&1. Of the four, only Rackspace broke the 10% barrier this year for Honorable Mention, while the other three were just shy of the mark. GoDaddy.com was category winner last year, and DreamHost and 1&1 were the two Honorable Mentions.
ASUS Eee PC (24%)
Android G1 (22%)
Last year, we admittedly were dorks for having the category Favorite Linux Handheld Device, which left so many cool Linux gadgets out in the cold. The Nokia N800 won that one. This year, however, we've taken our smart pills and expanded the category, calling it Favorite Linux-Based Gadget. Not surprisingly, one of the most well-known devices, the ASUS Eee PC won the category with 24% of the vote, followed by the Android G1, which achieved Honorable Mention status with 22%. After the G1, the field was so crowded, making it impossible, unfortunately, for any other device to crack the 10% barrier. The Nokia N810 Tablet, Acer Aspire One, TomTom Navigation System, OpenMoko FreeRunner, Amazon Kindle, the Palm Pre and several write-ins all received a fair share of your vote, which shows how sophisticated, interesting and crowded the Linux device space has become.
ASUS Eee PC (32%)
Lenovo T61p (16%)
Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (12%)
Acer Aspire One (10%)
There is something oddly liberating about the “big guys” pre-installing Linux on their PCs. At long last, when we go to buy a PC, a device so central to our identities and livelihoods, we find the well-thought-out preference for Linux taken seriously by the companies we want to buy from. After being shut out so long for being too smart, it sure feels good, doesn't it? Your vote for the ASUS Eee PC as Favorite Linux Laptop (with 32% of the vote) tells us how much you appreciate the opportunity to buy a laptop designed with Linux in mind and not just a feature-handicapped afterthought to placate the pesky geeks. The group of Honorable Mentions includes not only the returning Lenovo T61p (16%) but also the newcomers Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (12%) and Acer Aspire One (10%). Despite such euphoria over the big guys, you didn't forget our Linux-specialist friends like Linux Certified, EmperorLinux and R Cubed who kept us motoring during darker times. They fared well as a group if you add up all the votes for their various models.
Let's start with the official results for Favorite Linux Desktop Workstation. Dell won the category with 41% of your votes, and Hewlett-Packard earned Honorable Mention with 16%. Unfortunately, the official results fail to appreciate the “roll-your-own” spirit that is so vital to our community. Because we didn't include a choice like “I configure my own desktop PCs”, you told us as much in your own words. In a classic survey creator's nightmare, the responses “I do. :)” and “I do, as in self-built” and “Home-brewed” all registered as separate votes worth 0.05% each even though they mean the same thing. Allow me put on my Katherine Harris hat and have a look at these “hanging chads”, Florida-election-style, to shed some light on your roll-your-own tendencies. Hours of investigative sleuthing revealed that roughly 12% of you configure your own desktop PCs. Therefore, the honorary Honorable Mention award in this category goes to the roll-your-own spirit of the Linux Community.
While the roll-your-own philosophy is alive and well when it comes to servers, you tend to feel more comfortable giving this business to the big guys. Dell is the winner of the Favorite Linux Server category with 32% of your votes. Your Honorable Mention winners, IBM and HP, trailed Dell with 16% and 15%, respectively.
PowerTOP Tool (16%)
Last year, VMware took top honors as Favorite “Green” Linux Product or Solution partly because of how we phrased the question. This year, to be more fair, we grouped virtualization solutions together, and they won the category with 45% of your votes. The win makes sense given the technology's impressive improvement in the efficiency of servers. The PowerTOP tool for finding energy wasters on your systems also is popular and won Honorable Mention with 16%. We failed to list the recent (kernel 2.6.21) innovation of the tickless idle on Linux, which takes advantage of low power states in modern processors. Are you taking advantage of this feature? Next year, we'll ask you directly. Finally, this author wishes to express his dismay at the significant number of disparaging remarks in this survey toward green solutions. Although the vast majority of respondents are positive to neutral in this category, responses such as “Don't drink the green Kool-Aid” and “I don't care!” were plentiful. Will our progeny admire our arrogant proclivity to waste natural resources and do little to change our ways? I doubt it.
Linux in a Nutshell by Ellen Siever, Stephen Spainhour, Stephen Figgins and Jessica P. Hekman(4%)
Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond (3%)
Running Linux by Matt Welsh, Matthias Kalle Dalheimer, Terry Dawson and Lar Kaufman (3%)
The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond (2%)
The Linux Bible by Christopher Negus (2%)
Last year, we limited the selection in this category to books published from 2007 to the date of the survey (February 2008). This year, we decided to try Favorite Linux Book of All Time, and the results didn't gel as easily. Because this category is so crowded, we decided to toss out the 10% rule for Honorable Mention and honor your top five books. Interestingly, two of your favorites were not technical guides but rather required reading for understanding the Linux phenomenon, namely Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary, the story of Linus Torvalds' rise to fame, and The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric Raymond's seminal book on the Open Source movement. Rounding out the Honorable Mentions Running Linux and The Linux Bible. The information-overloaded among you meanwhile opted for the popular write-in candidates “Too many to choose” or “Very tough question”.
Tie: Marcel Gagné's Cooking with Linux (19%) and Kyle Rankin's Hack and / (19%)
Dave Taylor's Work the Shell (10%)
Mick Bauer's Paranoid Penguin (10%)
Here is some Linux Journal lore for you. Our publication used to have a column called Kernel Korner, which many faithful readers certainly remember. Kernel Korner dominated the Favorite Linux Journal Column category from the awards' inception in 1996 until 2000. Things got competitive in 2001 when Marcel Gagné and his Cooking with Linux, the world's first column ever to pair practical (and hilarious) Linux advice with appropriate wine selections. Cooking with Linux has been so popular ever since that it won Favorite Linux Journal Column from 2001 to 2008, and last year, I suggested that “Marcel Gagné is going to have to be knocked off before anyone knocks him off the award stand.” My prediction was premature, because this year, although Marcel won this category again, he shares his title with Kyle Rankin's more recent Hack and / column. Believe it or not, Marcel and Kyle received the exact same number of votes, or 19% each. Congratulations are due to both excellent columnists who offer vastly different but equally useful content in their monthly musings. Meanwhile, Dave Taylor's Work the Shell and Mick Bauer's Paranoid Penguin are both popular with 10% of you, enough to award them Honorable Mention.
Android Platform and the T-Mobile G1 Phone (9%)
KDE 4 (7%)
ASUS Eee PC (6%)
In the question for 2009 Linux Product of the Year, we didn't give you any suggestions. We left the responses 100% up to you. Naturally, this made nearly every response unique and left it up to us to categorize it. Nevertheless, it is safe to proclaim that your 2009 Linux Journal Product of the Year Award goes to the Android platform and its first commercial implementation, the T-Mobile G1 phone. The pair garnered 9% of your votes. Close behind, with 8% and Honorable Mention, was the Ubuntu Linux distribution, followed by the KDE 4 desktop with 7% and, finally, last year's winner, the ASUS Eee PC with 6%. Last year, the Eee PC reached an impressive 37% of the votes. Interestingly, the development of Android and the G1 phone, although popular and groundbreaking, didn't have quite the same dominant effect that the Eee PC had last year—nor did any other single product. This effect allowed you to remediate my lament from last year that “when Ubuntu releases yet another fantastic upgrade, our expectations are met and the buzz meter quickly subsides”. This year, Ubuntu got the respect it deserves in this category for revolutionizing the Linux desktop oh so gradually with each great upgrade.
Thanks to each and every one of you who participated in the voting.
James Gray is Linux Journal Products Editor and a graduate student in environmental sciences and management at Michigan State University. A Linux enthusiast since the mid-1990s, he currently resides in Lansing, Michigan, with his wife and cats.