Fedora Plays King of the Mountain

Anyone who has been involved with Linux for more than a few minutes is aware that there is a — sometimes blindingly — wide array of distributions available for the end user to choose from. Within the Linux community, there is a certain amount of — good natured, we think — competition among distributions for market share, and that competition heated up last week as Fedora Linux declared itself king of the Linux mountain.

Attempts to affix an accurate number to the userbase are certainly nothing new. Net Applications hosts a well-known site dedicated to tracking usage statistics, and numerous projects and trackers have developed over the years to keep track of just who has how many users. According to Fedora Project Leader Paul Frields, Fedora has been keeping close count of its users, and the total comes up to 9.5 million, give or take a few, across the three currently-supported versions of Fedora. The numbers — which come on the heels of reports that Ubuntu's userbase tops 8 million — are derived from the number of unique IP addresses polling Fedora's update servers for versions 7, 8, & 9. Also included are approximately half a million users of Fedora's development build, but do not include users of the Fedora-derived Red Hat Enterprise Linux. A similar method was used last year at Mozilla to produce an estimate of 125 million users worldwide.

The unique IP method, however, exposes the figures to some doubt, as it is unable to account both for machines using multiple IP addresses, as well as multiple machines using a single IP address. Many high-speed internet users have connections utilizing dynamic IP addresses, which change from time to time — as do virtually all dial-up users, who are assigned a random address from an available pool on each connect. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many systems operate on networks which assign local IP addresses to each machine and send all outgoing traffic through a single address — large corporations and even entire countries have at times been represented by a single unique IP. Neither situation can accurately be accounted for when counting individual IP addresses.

Frields acknowledged this weakness directly, saying "for everyone hopping addresses, there are probably some machines we're not counting because they are all coming from a single IP address." He went on to attack numbers claimed by other distributions, saying that he is "exceedingly distrustful about people who put out numbers without backing up the way that they found [them]," while saying that at Fedora they "always document our numbers so others can verify them if they want — we're not just pulling them out of a hat."

If Fedora's numbers are indeed correct, then it would most likely place the distribution at the top of the Linux pile. There is a downside, however, to being king of the mountain: You become the one that everyone else is trying to push off.

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