Is the Linux Desktop actually growing?

Is the Linux Desktop actually growing?

Summary: No, the Linux desktop will never knock off Windows, but it may actually be a bigger player on traditional desktops than usually believed.


Hundreds of thousands of people are switching to the Linux desktop.

Hundreds of thousands of people are switching to the Linux desktop.

I use a Linux desktop. According to Google Analytics, 12% of the visitors to my various technology Web sites use Linux. Nevertheless, I know that on the traditional desktop, the vast majority of ordinary users are running Windows, and don't even get me started on “The Year of the Linux Desktop.” It's not going to happen. But, and this is interesting, it appears that there is a slight upward trend in desktop Linux use.

First reported by Katherine Noyes on Linux Insider, it turns out that the Web research firm Net Applications' data show that Linux's desktop market share has been growing , from a mere 0.97 percent in July, 2011 to a new high of 1.41 percent in January, 2012.

As a Linux lover, this is good news, but it's also odd news. GNOME, long the desktop interface darling of many Linux desktop users, lost many of its fan with its 3.x revisionUbuntu, long the most popular Linux desktop, changed to a new interface, Unity, in April 2011 and many people hate the new Unity desktop.

Mint Linux, which recently surged to the top of mind for Linux desktop users, has kept its fans, but now it's also changing its desktop interface. With its users turning up their noses at GNOME 3.2, it's now creating its own GNOME 3.x shell: Cinnamon.

In short, these are confusing times for Linux desktop users. So where are these users coming from?

It's not like these are Android or Google ChromeOS users. Those are both counted separately. True, their numbers are growing rapidly as well. I think Adrian Kingsley-Hughes was right when he said that “'Post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux ever was.”. But, that's another story.

It's not like the mainstream PC vendors are supporting desktop Linux. While you can get desktop Linux from them, you normally need to be a business making a special--and large--order. True, there are PC vendors that specialize in Linux. These include companies like ZaReason and System76 that deliver quality products with excellent support at a good price. But none of them have reported that they're suddenly doing boffo business.

Could it be that Ubuntu is being successful with its plans to use Unity to make Linux more attractive to ordinary users? Are tech-savvy users finally realizing that Linux really will run on anything these days? Sure, it may not run popular Windows games like World of Warcraft (WoW) natively, but many Windows games, like WoW will run on Linux with Crossover Games. Linux, though, will run applications that do everything most people need or want. Are folks finally realizing that Linux's stability and security advantages are worth the trouble of switching to Linux?

Darned if I know. I'm just glad to see more people joining me in Linux. You should give it a try sometime yourself if you're mildly technical—the days when you needed to be a computer guru to run Linux are long gone. You may find that you like it. In the last six months millions of other computer users have made the jump to Linux.

Related Stories: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux ever was Linux Mint 12: A Great desktop Linux stays Great The most popular Linux is... The top five Linux desktop vendors The Linux desktop is dead. Long live the Linux desktop.

Topics: Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • A KDE4 convert

    I have grown to love KDE4. I think I've found my desktop for the next year or two at least. How do Windows users get along without multiple workspaces???
    • Agreed


      Unity can continue to be whatever it wants. I don't care now that I have settled for KDE4.
      You can, by the way, download Linux Mint 12 KDE RC, which is what I am currently using.

      I switched to it from Kubuntu and it will officially replace Kubuntu when Clem gets the kinks out, of which there are few.

      The whole question of measuring Linux use is pointless unless there is some cohesive tool on each Linux Distro that can report to a central server statistics, such as Smolt.
      Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
      • Curious

        Which distro is Linus using these days? Last I heard he ditched KDE for XFCE.
        • If I recall correctly

          Once upon a time Linus was *always using KDE* and had issues with Gnome Developers' in general. Do recall most recently his switch to XFCE, but then he gave a positive report on the GNOME extensions. So, he may be as much a refugee as anyone else. :/
          Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
      • Yup

        @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate<br><br>It took a while but I'm loving Mint 12 RC KDE!<br><br>I'd like to see recent numbers on the pace of growth of those switching to and using KDE. As for me, KDE has been my go to UI for over 10 years.
        Tim Patterson
    • RE: Is the Linux Desktop actually growing?

      @thebaldguy wrote:
      "How do Windows users get along without multiple workspaces???

      While not built into Windows, there are several 3rd party programs that add workspaces to Windows. I am currently using the open-source (GPL) VirtuaWin on both my XP and Vista systems:
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • RE: Is the Linux Desktop actually growing?

        @Rabid Howler Monkey
        I use VirtuaWin + KvasdoPager.
        It's almost as good as the Gnome virtual desktop tool.
        • Almost is a hand grenade if you are talking about WindoZe

          Come on, why would you ever want to use a brainless 4 bit file system OS if you don't have to?

          Can your WindoZe OS do 3D and multiple desktops?

          That would be a NO.
      • Does That Handle Workspaces Properly?

        @Rabid Howler Monkey
        I've tried several different pieces of software in Windows that create and manage workspaces. However, I have never found one that correctly prioritizes focus switches of workspaces over applications. That is, if I have four workspaces, and I close a program on workspace 3, and the last program I had open before that was on workspace 1, the workspace manager should switch focus to the last program I had open on workspace 3 (or leave me at a blank workspace if there are no other programs open in workspace 3) rather than switch focus the last program I had open, thus sending me to workspace 1. Every program that I've tried in Windows couldn't deal with this properly. I've always figured it was because there was no good way to override the behavior of explorer.exe and take over focus switching from it.
      • RE: Does That Handle Workspaces Properly?

        @CFWhitman In my experience, VirtuaWin does fall a little short of *Nix workspaces. For example, moving an app from one workspace to another doesn't work without modules. However, my primary use of VirtuaWin is to run a Linux VM in one workspace, pretty much taking up the entire display, and various Windows programs in another workspace so it really doesn't hold me back too much.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Re: multiple desktops for windows

        @Rabid Howler Monkey <br><br>Long ago, before I made the switch to Linux, I used WinXP with BBlean, a fork BB4win which was a Windows port of the BlackBox window manager that took on a life of its own under Windows. I customized it and setup hotkeys for everything. When I first made the move to Linux, I tried quite a few window managers including BlackBox and was disappointed with their performance and lack of easy customization. It wasn't until I found Linux Mint with Gnome-Do and Compiz-Fusion that I stopped pining over BBlean. Linux Mint 12's interface would look pretty impressive if it weren't for two things... one, its buggy on many systems I've tried it on and two, It just doesn't measure up to even Mint 5 with Compiz Fusion. I'm sticking with Mint 9 for the time being but frankly I wish Mint 6 were still supported. In my experience, from Mint 5 beta to Mint 12, Mint 6 has been the best release to date.
      • Re: multiple desktops for windows


        For WinXP you should try BB4win or one of its forks like BBlean . It actually had an option that allowed you to replace explorer.exe with BB4win as the shell. I don't know if it would work for Vista or Win7 but I somehow doubt it.
      • Re: multiple desktops for windows wrote:
        "stopped pining over BBlean

        I can't relate to this nor to many Linux fans being up in arms about the KDE 3.5.x to 4.x changes or the Gnome 2.x to 3.x changes. Linux has more desktop environments and window managers than one can shake a stick at. The KDE devs finally got things sorted out and I suspect that the Gnome devs will eventually do the same. In the meantime, find something else ...

        And realize that when Microsoft makes a change with Windows or Apple with Mac OS X, most users have little choice but to adapt if they want to stick with the platform.

        I switched to Xfce with the release of Debian Lenny (am on Squeeze now), well before the Gnome 3.x changes, had no problems and workspaces have worked fine for me. Similarly, while VirtuaWin on Windows is not as feature-rich as Xfce workspaces, it gets the job done for me.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • @thebaldguy says he uses Vista???

        So you have 25 monkeys to help you reboot Vista/Longhorn 2000 times a day?
        I can sell you bananas for those monkeys if you like as I live in Cambodia.

        Let me know how many tons of fresh bananas you need dude.

    • Because we don't actually need it...

      @thebaldguy A lot of the improvements in Windows since Win2K is about how to manage multiple sessions. Win7 uses organised previews to group sessions and applications together in a way that makes switching easy.

      So rather than trying to build function-specific desktops that you switch between (the 'workspaces' approach), the typical Win7 user just keeps it all in one place and opens what they need as they need it.

      You can also pin applications and documents to the task bar now - and Win7 aware applications track recently used documents which can also be pinned to the application, making it easy to open regularly used documents.

      Keep in mind, I'm NOT saying one is better than the other - they're just two different ways of interacting with and organising things.
      • I've Used 7 Quite a Bit Now

        @TheWerewolf <br>Yes, I've used 7 quite a bit now, and it does deal with multiple apps better than previous versions of Windows (I'm not including Vista because I never used it enough to get a feel for that; I get the impression it's similar). However, once you're used to workspaces, even the improved approach of Win 7 doesn't really seem adequate. It's workable, but I feel much more at home on my Linux machines, switching between related sets of apps.

        I think of workspaces in a similar way to tabbed browsing. It's hard to explain why it's appealing to someone who's never done it, but once you start using it, you don't want to work without it.

        Of course, that doesn't mean that everyone will necessarily find multiple workspaces as valuable as I do.
      • Multiple desktops

        @TheWerewolf I second CF Whitman. I used to think "who needs multiple desktops?" After many years on Linux I really do miss them when I'm on a Windows machine. They just grow on you. By default I have six, but I've often had eight.
    • KDE and Windows familiarity are the only way

      @thebaldguy <br><br>KDE is the only way, yet doesn't get a mention in the article - it's the only window manager that has remained semi-consistent.<br><br>If the Linux Desktop is to grow, then the user interface needs to target existing WINDOWS users. Too many of recent UI changes in other window managers have tried to follow the Mac fad to show how trendy they are, or to try and reinvent the wheel.
      • RE: Is the Linux Desktop actually growing?

        @cauleyflower If you can convert the XP-using grandmothers, the war will be won.
        • I can

          I've managed to convert several individuals to Linux without those individuals having any technical computing knowledge at all beyond "click here and the computer machine does something". Generally, my selling points were along the lines of "if all you're doing is web browsing and listening to music, then you don't need Windows anymore".