Shopping on Penguins

I was pointed recently to Zappos as a near-perfect example of a company that brings the principles of open source to business. Its site is inventive and fancy (as you'd expect a clothing retailer to be), but not a triumph of design over utility. What's more, it's fast. I can check Web site responsiveness with some confidence, because our little apartment near Boston has 20Mb/s symmetrical service from Verizon FiOS (that's fiber, and pretty cheap, considering), and the speeds I get at the office I share at Harvard are more than twice that.

So I decided to see what they were running that site on, by checking with's “What's that site running?” service. The answer was Linux. Zappos itself is in an Akamai Netblock, and of the 13 other results (all, the results for OS were Linux or “unknown”.

Then I decided to look beyond Zappos to other on-line retailers. Here are the results for the top ten, as listed by, with sales volume numbers in parentheses. Results for are first, and other results for each company are summarized in text (Netcraft gives results in lowercase):

1. Inc. ($14.8 billion): linux.

2. Staples Inc. ($5.6 billion): linux, through akamai.

3. Office Depot Inc. ($4.9 billion): the top result is linux for, but (without the dubs) is windows server 2003. Other sites are a mix of the two and “unknown”.

4. Dell Inc. ($4.2 billion): f5-big-ip, though (Dell laptops) is linux and a couple of sites are “unknown”.

5. HP Home & Home Office Store ($3.4 billion): hp-ux.

6. OfficeMax Inc. ($3.2 billion): f5-big-ip, with a mix of solaris, windows server 2003, linux and “unknown” among other officemax sites.

7. Apple Inc. ($2.7 billion): “unknown”, but the company uses linux through akamai for a number of sites.

8. Sears Holding Corp. ($2.6 billion, includes and for, linux, plus some “unknown”, solaris, f5-big-ip and windows server 2003 for For, linux (through akamai), plus linux (with and without akamai) for various sites. is windows 2000. Most of the rest are linux, plus a couple “unknown” and one f5-big-ip.

9. CDW Corp. ($2.4 billion): the top result is linux for (through akamai). (sans dubs) is f5-big-ip. The rest are a mix of linux and f5-big-ip, with one windows server 2003.

10. Newegg: windows server 2003, though linux shows up in five out of the nine results.

Although that summation is far from a complete picture, or even a completely accurate one for this Top Ten, it's clear that the picture can't be painted without linux as the most primary color.


Internet Retailer Top 500 Retail Web Sites:



Doc Searls is editor-in-chief of Linux Journal, where he has been on the masthead since 1996. He is also co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto (Basic Books, 2000, 2010), author of The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), a fellow of the Center for Information Technology & Society (CITS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an alumnus fellow of the Berkman Klien Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He continues to run ProjectVRM, which he launched at the BKC in 2006, and is a co-founder and board member of its nonprofit spinoff, Customer Commons. Contact Doc through [email protected].

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