After delving into where in the world people seem most keen on Linux, I couldn't resist taking the research into Google Insights a bit further and seeing what trends were visible on the questions of which Linux distribution seemed to be most popular over time.
The results were not terribly surprising after the first round of research into popular Linux search terms: in terms of desktop-oriented distributions, Ubuntu has been historically the highest trendsetter, according to Google Insights.
Insights produces normalized results of search terms entered on Google, and tracks those trends over time. All scores are normalized to a relative 0 to 100 scale, and when search terms are compared like this, they scores reflect the relative value based on the peak search activity of one of the terms.
In this first search, shown in Chart 1, Ubuntu was compared to the openSUSE, Fedora, Linux Mint, and Debian GNU/Linux distributions. The actual search terms used, it should be noted, were "Debian Linux", "openSUSE", "Fedora Linux", "Linux Mint", and "Ubuntu Linux". "Linux" was added to some search terms because they have broader or differing connotatations. As you can see in the chart, after Ubuntu's initial 2004 release, it vaulted up and over every other distro in late 2005 and never looked back.
Fedora and Debian have followed almost identical patterns of interest over time, with a steady decline starting in 2005. openSUSE, after it sprang into existence in mid-2005, dominated the number two spot in the trend line beginning in early 2007, but in 2Q 2011 was passed by the Linux Mint distribution.
On the snapshot level, in January 2012 the trend scores were:
But, when taking into account the entire 2004-present search condition, Fedora and Debian have performed historically better in the average search trend values:
On the server side, I tested Debian Linux, SUSE Linux, Red Hat Linux, Ubuntu Linux, and CentOS to see what the results might show (see Chart 2). Here, the results were a bit more mixed, since no one distribution dominated as strongly as Ubuntu did in search trends for desktops.
Red Hat seems to have been in steady decline since the chart's beginnings in 2004, as is Debian and (albeit more slowly) SUSE Linux. CentOS and Ubuntu, however, have been pretty much steady after their initial surges and have remained, respectively, in the number one and two spots on the chart since early 2007 and 2Q 2008 (again, respectively).
The historic average vs. the January 2012 trend scores tell a slightly different story:
|Red Hat Linux||4||16|
These results, however, need to be taken with big grains of salt. They are search indicators only, because clearly Red Hat's search trend decline does not reflect the company's upward growth over the same time period. If anything, one could make the argument that as Red hat becomes more and more popular, fewer people are searching for it on Google. In a similar vein, CentOS's search popularity might be explained by the fact the distribution doesn't have a commercial entity with a big sales and marketing department to spread the word.
Take these results, then, with that in mind.
Just for fun, I ran a few more searches on popular open source software packages, and came up with some other trend numbers for your consumption.
In the comparison of web servers:
On the Linux desktop:
And finally, perhaps the most important comparison of all:
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