Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

Summary: Try to please everyone, and pretty soon you please no one.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Open Source
76

Ubuntu, once king of the desktop Linux distributions, has slid into fourth place according to data made available by DistroWatch. On the flipside, the Mint distribution has enjoyed tremendous growth in popularity.

Pingdom has pulled together data going back to 2005 that charts the demise of Ubuntu and the rise to power of Mint, and it's not a pretty sight for Ubuntu fans.

Taking the stats for the last 30 days and comparing them to the averages for 2010 show that Ubuntu's popularity is down 47.2%, while Mint is up a whopping 105%. The following chart shows how Mint's popularity has increased over the past 12 months:

Why?

The popular theory used to explain the decline is that Linux users don't like the new Unity interface being made the default in version 11.04 (Natty Narwhal), which relegated the Gnome interface to being an option. ZDNet's own Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols seems to agree with this theory, while Jason Perlow is overcome with rage whenever he uses it.

I don't buy it, and for two reasons:

First off, it's not that hard to disable Unity and go back to the classic UI. Linux users are smarter than the average bears and I don't see then bailing on their favorite Linus distro because the UI options have changed. It doesn't make sense. I don't see the Linux faithful batting an eyelid over this.

Secondly, Ubuntu's decline started a long time ago. It's popularity has been in decline since 2005. Unity can't have been influencing this back then because it wasn't even a twinkle in the eye of the open source developers. While the popularity of Dedian, Fedora and openSUSE have all remained pretty constant (excluding openSUSE's initial rise to popularity after it's release in December of 2006), Mint has been on the increase and Ubuntu has been on a steady decline.

My explanation for Mint's rise and Ubuntu's decline isn't exciting but i think it's closer to the truth than the whole Unity business. Ubuntu got too popular and it tied to become all things to all Linux users. I've used both Ubuntu and Mint, and to me the Mint distro seems better suited to Linux fans (you know, the people who have been using Linux for years). Canonical Ubuntu have tried too hard over the years to make Ubuntu mainstream and appeal to the masses, and by going down this road have alienated its hardcore users. And now it's paying the price.

Try to please everyone, and pretty soon you please no one.

I won't be surprised when I find out that Ubuntu slid into fifth place ... prepare yourself, this is likely to happen in the next couple of months.

Related:

Topic: Open Source

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

76 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Ubuntu Decline

    Adrian,

    Where did you get the data used in this article? Sounds strangely like advertising. Users of Linux by their very nature are normally users of more than one distro. This is an experimental community, not a community of devoted hardliners. Be careful, you sound like you are advertising.

    Neal
    nkingcade
    • Ubuntu has never being a popular distro

      @nkingcade Ubuntu's claims of numbers have always being based on downloads .... downloads that not always turn into actual users. Most Linux users don't like unstable crap .... and Ubuntu is the mother of instability.

      The decline in users may be that people are no longer downloading it (ie: not wasting the time and bandwidth) compounded by the fact that hardly anybody likes the garbage of Unity.
      wackoae
      • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

        @wackoae <br><br>Mother of instability? What are you talking about? I've used Linux (tried it a few times, didn't like the small software library, went back to Windows 7) and that isn't why I dislike it nor did I see much of that.<br><br>In fact, come to think of it, I NEVER had Ubuntu crash on me or even hard lockup.

        Of course, that same thing is true with Windows 7 and Windows 8 Dev. Preview.
        Lerianis10
      • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

        @wackoae Again, the ultimate source of the data is Distrowatch.com's page hits for the various distros. It doesn't measure users, but it does measure popularity, which should be correlated.
        jgm@...
      • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

        @wackoae Ubuntu is not the mother of instability. Most linux users are not super gurus (although there is a decent percent of them). Most people want to install an OS and have it work. Why do you think Gentoo and Arch have such low marketshare? because nobody wants to deal with that crap.
        Jimster480
    • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

      @nkingcade
      His source is people visiting the website Distrowatch. As a result his research is flawed and very misleading. As an example. I have been using Ubuntu almost every day for the last two years and I have not visited Distrowatch at all (but previously I used to). Ubuntu is increasingly being aimed at users who are not interested in visiting sites like Distrowatch.
      root12
      • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

        @root12 Why would someone using Linux not be interested in visiting a site about Linux? What kind of users are these?
        jgm@...
      • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

        @jgm
        Is every user using windows visiting a windows site every day? Of course not! Why can Linux geeks not accept that there is a fair amount of users that actually USE their computers for daily work? Not everybody likes to install yet another distro every other day.
        I evaluated some distro's 3 years ago, choose for Ubuntu and have been using it since. However: I'm not totally satisfied with 11.10. That is not because of Unity, which works pretty well, but because of loss of performance and increased power (heat) usage.
        water-man
      • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

        @water-man
        >Is every user using windows visiting a windows site every day?

        ZD-Net depends on it! :-)

        But that's a straw-man; root12 said Ubuntu is aimed at people who are "not interested in visiting sites", not not interested in visiting them every day.

        > Of course not! Why can Linux geeks not accept that there is a fair
        >amount of users that actually USE their computers for daily work? Not
        >everybody likes to install yet another distro every other day.

        I don't install yet another distro every other day; I use my computer 8+ hours every day for real work. I use one distro and have since I began using Linux full time in July of 2010. The only place I ever install other distros is in a virtual machine, and even then only if it's something exotic and special - a minimal distro for flash drives, a penetration-testing toolkit, a home server in a box, etc. - something really compelling to check out.

        That said, I certainly check out distrowatch every week - they have a round-up of what's going on in the world of Linux. Information on new kernel releases, upcoming changes to distros, future release dates, a podcast, interviews with people behind major projects like Firefox or GNOME, etc. I use OpenSUSE so every week I also check their HTML "newsletter" with information on features in progress for the next version, command line tutorials for newbies, the top-voted requested features, new feature requests, a round-up of the latest bug/security fixes, a review of kernel/desktop changes, the most interesting posts on the forum that week, what's going on behind the scenes - such as right now community elections are coming up, etc. I also watch the Linux Action Show podcast each week and have discovered a lot of great Linux programs through their software "pick of the week" and learned about things like connecting remotely to your PC and making hard drive snapshots, things I didn't know how to do before but have become quite useful since.
        My point was I don't understand why root12 would hold in scorn someone checking out information like that or what kind of user he was referring to who wouldn't care to ever want to learn anything about Linux or Linux software or care what's going on in the world of Linux. The more you use it for real work, the more you'd think someone would want to keep up-to-date on news... I can just imagine someone upgrading their Ubuntu Gnome desktop and encountering Unity by surprise, or some other Gnome 2.x desktop and learning that their distro has switch to Gnome 3 and being plunged into it with no heads-up. I use Linux on a laptop too; thanks to Linux sites I knew that certain current kernel versions increase power usage because of some systems' improperly implemented BIOS and the boot parameter to work around that. I learned that there were issues some people had importing their older Kmail messages into KMail2 so I've held off on upgrading until those are ironed out or I duplicate my setup in a virtual machine first and test to be sure everything will go smoothly. It's BECAUSE I need this computer working that I feel a need to keep informed about what's going on with my distro and Linux in general.

        The class of user root12 is describing, who never wants to know or learn or even think about things again after installing sounds like the class of Windows user who never applies software updates - and we all have at least one friend/relative who falls into that camp. I don't think that's a group we want to court or encourage to continue in that mindset.
        jgm@...
  • Combination of UI and core

    I honestly believe that the decline is a combination of a couple of factors.
    First off with the UI: Sure it can be disabled, but when I am installing a new distro and I am going to use Gnome anyway why would I bother with Ubuntu when other distros give me what I want out of the gate? The interface put an annoyance I didn't need with Linux.
    Second is the core dependencies: I am finding the Ubunutu has removed, renamed, and rolled a lot of packages in to their own little scheme, which is starting to result in programs being setup for Ubuntu only and is causing time to find out dependency names across installs. This is the bigger annoyance I have with the newer Ubuntu, but in combination with the first I have written them off for now as a distro.

    I'll also go on to say I don't really understand you explanation as to the decline.
    "Ubuntu got too popular and it tied to become all things to all Linux users." Sounds like you're calling Linux users hipsters. Your explanation doesn't really address any actual reason people are moving away from it other than it was trying to become popular, at least from what I can tell.
    ImRaptor
    • I thought power of Linux was tweaking

      @ImRaptor If its one of the things Linux users like to complain about Windows, its too easy and basic and ready to use.
      adacosta38
      • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

        @adacosta38 no, just the pitfalls of it, mainly security. Unlike the fanboys that like to bash the competition, I find it easier to let everyone use what works for them, if all computer users did that we'd have a much better community in tech. Plus cross platform program versions of everything.heck maybe even all OSes running the same core to let everything run seamlessly from one to another (Linux-unix core, WIndows-unix core, and Mac OS-unix core is what I am meaning. I realize windows is not that way now).
        Win8AnUglyDisaster
    • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

      @ImRaptor
      The article is crap. I still use and like Ubuntu everyday, but I have not visited Distrowatch for over a year. I think really think proves that maybe more Ubuntu users are not interested Distrowatch.
      root12
  • Well

    If Canonical was serious with making Ubuntu mainstream then i think that there would already be at least some Ubuntu preloaded PC sold by now.
    You can't expect an O.S to become mainstream nowadays if it doesn't come preloaded with some kind of hardware.
    Though, it is not too late, i think that if Canonical manage to design and sell some kind of UbuntuBooks they could end being way more popular than ChromeBooks.
    timiteh
    • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

      @timiteh There have been Ubuntu netbooks sold, and stores in China are selling PCs now with Ubuntu preinstalled, complete with Ubuntu displays and everything.
      jgm@...
      • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

        @jgm@...
        More Ubuntu users are not interested in Distrowatch than the others.
        root12
  • I beg to differ

    From the article:<br>"Canonical Ubuntu have tried too hard over the years to make Ubuntu mainstream and appeal to the masses, and by going down this road have alienated its hard-core users.<br><br>Mark Shuttleworth is interested in turning Ubuntu into a profitable business via his company, Canonical Ltd. He knows that there is no possibility for this if he sticks with the "Linux faithful" and "hard-core users" for the desktop and mobile. (Psst! These aren't the users making Android such a success.) His interest is creating a distro that he hopes ordinary users, what you refer to as "the masses", will move towards. In other words, it's not a mistake, it's a business strategy.<br><br>The "Linux faithful" and "hard-core users" can either use Kubuntu, Xubuntu or Lubuntu (there is still choice underneath the Canonical umbrella) or they can move to an entirely different distro such as the main edition of Linux Mint, which is a derivative of Ubuntu. Or Debian, from which Ubuntu itself is derived.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

      @Rabid Howler Monkey It is a mistake. As Eric Raymond once put it when dissecting the Microsoft Halloween memos, Microsoft (now Ubuntu) are designing with input from the most ignorant users (attempting mass-market appeal) while Linux typically takes its input from its smartest users. Linus Torvalds once said of the Gnome desktop that there's nothing wrong with designing for simplicity, but there is something wrong with designing *only* for simplicity. My take on these two ideas is that as users progress in knowledge a for-the-masses OS becomes less and less suited for them as time wears on. With an OS designed for its smartest users, the user experience gets better and better as the user learns more and time wears on. You're gaining initial market share, but you ultimately lose it by going the lowest-common-denominator route.

      The article also doesn't address that Shuttleworth made statements not in the spirit of Linux, such as "this is not a democracy" when he moved the window controls to the left side of the window - a la OS X, which he appears to be attempting to duplicate. He also made Banshee the Ubuntu default music player, then initially edited the code so that commissions from online music sales made through Banshee would no longer go to the Gnome desktop foundation but to Canonical instead, followed by a big dust-up with the Banhee people. Additionally a former Ubuntu developer came out and explained how they're mostly paid by the number of features that make it into a release, so most developers (including him) rushed features into releases before they were ready for economic reasons and then would take another one or two releases to make these features actually usable. The joke has also spawned among Linux users "What's the difference between an AOL user and an Ubuntu user? Ten years." Finally, Canonical has been repeatedly assailed by other Linux developers for contributing miniscule amounts of code upstream compared to other distros and Linux contributing companies. It's the combination of Unity/chasing of the tablet market and consumer touch devices, unpolished releases, a focus on profit (which doesn't sit well with some Linux advocates), the anti-Linux-spirit "not a democracy" and lack of code contribution, and the "Linux For Dummies" reputation its engendered that have combined to lower its popularity over the last few years. Ubuntu users are realizing that they don't need to go to "Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu" or anything else that ends in buntu to gain a good Linux experience, and that in fact they can find knowledgeable, friendly userbases, distros that ARE democracies, distros that contribute freely to others and release stable releases with sane, well-tested technology advances. On this week's Linux Action Show the hosts declared that it's now between Mint and OpenSUSE for which distro will be leading the way in the future.
      jgm@...
      • RE: Ubuntu sees massive slide in popularity, Mint sprints ahead ... but why?

        @jgm@...
        "..leading the way in the future" What kind of future? The future that is only available for Linux freaks. Ubuntu is not aiming for these kind of users and this clear. But you don't like that.
        root12
      • Are you serious?

        @jgm@... You sound like an incredibly typical linux fanboy, or worse. You think that Ubuntu will get anywhere just by sticking with the linux tinkerers? I, for one, appreciate Canonical's efforts to make Ubuntu mainstream, although I believe that they need better marketing mechanisms. I have a vested interest in seeing Ubuntu get a sizable marketshare as I wouldn't have to worry about lack of compatibility of a few softwares, not to metion companies availing their products for Ubuntu. Then I wouldn't have to worry about issues like visiting a website that supports Internet Explorer only (could you believe that?) or those few softwares that happen to support windows only. <br><br>As for Unity, though I can understand the 'dumbed down' feel of it, I also do understand the strategy of getting new average users to like it and hence Ubuntu, although I think that Unity has some improvements to make before it becomes a UI truly noticeable by the masses.<br><br>However, although I agree with Canonical about popularizing Ubuntu to the masses in principle, I think that they need to admit that whatever marketing schemes they're using is not working and need to remake them. 7 years since Ubuntu came out and it's still no more than a fringe market (half of a 1% or so linux market share). They're talking about bringing Ubuntu to smartphones on 2014. They're saying that they've got a market to participate in, but judging from the recent history of smartphones' growth I think they need to admit that there will be a challenge then.

        I love the fact that ordinary people have contributed to open source, and I would contribute in anyway I could, but undermining one's effort to bring this wonderful creation to the masses is not something I would roll with.
        JOB83