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. Netcraft.com 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.