Once upon a time Ubuntu was the popular Debian-based desktop Linux distribution that everyone-well not Debian's hardcore fans-loved. That was then. This is now. Today, Ubuntu has gotten into servers, the cloud and Canonical the company behind it, wants it to play in TVs, tablets, and smartphones. That's all well and good, but what does Ubuntu's faithful think of all this? Well Canonical asked them and this is what they had to say.
Over 17,000 Ubuntu users responded to Canonical's survey. According to Gerry Carr, Canonical's director of communications, the average Ubuntu user's age is between 25-35. Carr also found the Ubuntu's users "Overwhelmingly male. The average number of women responding is <4%. Here I do wonder how much the bias of the sampling methodology has affected the response rate - i.e. is that for whatever reason the way we reached resulted in fewer women responding than is actually reflective of the user base. We can't extrapolate from this data, but certainly such a hugely weighted response means we have to look at how we make the product, the community and probably both, more appealing to both genders."
The majority of Ubuntu users, over 80%, have been using it for at least two years. Just over a third have been using the Linux distro for five or more years.
Of those users, most of them, 67.2% came by their most current version of Ubuntu by doing a fresh install. Only 26.3% have updated their systems from a previous version. Of the vast majority who install or update Ubuntu themselves, 77% found the process easy or very easy. Only a tiny fraction, 0.1%, got their current Ubuntu system from buying it pre-installed from such vendors as Dell, System76, or ZaReason.
"The low number of [Ubuntu] pre-loads is certainly a concern , wrote Carr. It's "reflecting the continuing lack of availability in the market. We also probably under-counted this as we asked about the version users are currently running versus how they originally acquired a version. Still the good news from the sales team in Canonical is that 2012 should see a turnaround in this availability issue at least in many markets so again, a figure that is worth tracking over time." In other words, Canonical expects that there will be more vendors selling Ubuntu equipped PCs and laptops this year.
Looking ahead, Canonical asked how many users were using Ubuntu's personal cloud service, Ubuntu One. Somewhat to my surprise, they found that just over 40% were using this free service. While Carr thought this was an impressive number, I thought it was rather low.
Canonical also asked if its users were interested in its forthcoming Ubuntu for Android and Ubuntu on TVs, smartphones and tablets. Of these, I was interested to see that Ubuntu for Android, which involves running the Ubuntu desktop off multi-cored Android smartphones, got the most attention. 57.4% are willing to give this a shot. The other platforms all came in interest ratings in the high forties. Only 11.5% weren't interested in any of them and 11.7% are still waiting to see these products before making a decision. All-in-all though over half of Ubuntu users were willing to buy a new device with Ubuntu as its operating systems.
Carr said. "We are seeing strong interest in products especially as these products will by and large need to be purchased - that is I need to buy a TV, phone or tablet in order to experience Ubuntu on it. Again, we are polling intention and clearly a large amount of weight on the final decision to buy will depend on the quality and cost of the hardware, the software and the data."
Beyond Ubuntu, Canonical found that the most popular other operating system Ubuntu fans used was, wait for it, Windows, with 76.9%. Even in hardcore Linux circles it's hard to get away from Windows. As Carr observed, "This might be somewhat surprising to those who think of Linux communities as 'fringe' or 'zealots'. Clearly there is a lot of living in the real world and whether by choice or not there is a considerable use of other operating systems by the Ubuntu user base."
"Android is racing into second place overall [with 51.3%]" continued Carr "and a clear favourite for mobile devices amongst our users. Mac usage is strong but is one OS that drops significantly from English to Spanish to Portuguese users and is probably less prevalent overall than it is in the general population."
As for the other Linux distributions, 35.7% use other versions of Linux and 20.2% use other Ubuntu variants such as Linux Mint. Mint, which has become Ubuntu's strongest contender on the desktop, "wasn't singled out in this survey. Carr noted that "Where Linux Mint is placed between those two categories is unclear--perhaps we will call it out specifically next time."
Carr's final word on the survey was that it's "telling us that there is a strong propensity in the user base to buy an Ubuntu machine and perhaps not a single machine but multiple devices featuring Ubuntu. … Given the heterogeneity of OS usage it is also important to make sure that we continue to develop a platform that plays nice with others which seems to be correctly prioritized on the product road-maps."
I'm not so sure that users are eager to buy Ubuntu on new devices. Certainly Canonical wants its users to buy Ubuntu-branded TVs, smartphones, and tablets, but that tiny fraction who've bought Ubuntu on PCs since Dell was the first major OEM to offer Ubuntu in 2007 makes me wonder how many of them will be willing to actually buy these devices when they finally arrive.
All images courtesy of Canonical.