October 19, 2010, 9:29 PM — Given all the dismal market-share statistics so lovingly reproduced by Microsoft and like-minded partners, it's not entirely surprising to see observers declare that the dream of the Linux desktop is dead.
After all, we've all seen the reports, month after month, suggesting that Linux's market share is stuck around 1%. For September, in fact, Net Applications says it was even lower, with a figure of .85%. Taken as evidence of Linux's success or failure on the desktop, such news appears grim indeed.
The problem with such statistics, however, is that they are not an appropriate way to measure the uptake of a free piece of software. In general, such market-share data is based on sales figures: "X copies of Windows sold per month translates into Y market share for the operating system," for example.
But how is Linux obtained? Unless it's purchased with paid support--surely a minority of cases--it's typically a free download, with no sales transaction involved.
Certainly there are sites, such as DistroWatch, which keep tabs on page hits for each Linux distribution, thereby providing a snapshot of market interest, if nothing else. Canonical, meanwhile, recently started tracking original equipment manufacturer (OEM) installations of its Ubuntu Linux.
For the most part, however, it's almost impossible to know how many copies of Linux are in use on desktops around the world. Even tracking downloads won't give an accurate picture because of the ease--not to mention the complete legality--of sharing copies of the software. This is clearly a data-collection challenge that needs to be addressed.
But is Linux really dead on the desktop? I don't think so. Here's why.
1. It's in More than a Third of Businesses