The five most popular end-user Linux distributions

The five most popular end-user Linux distributions

Summary: There are over a billion Linux end-users in the world in 2014. Yes, that's right, a billion.

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Sure, on the desktop, Windows still rules. According to Stat Counter's' April 2014 data, Windows has about a 90 percent market share. Out of an approximate base of 1.5 billion PCs, that's about 1.36 billion Windows PCs. So, guess what's the number two end-user operating system in the world?

I'll give you a minute. <Cue the Jeopardy theme>

Global Device Penetration
With the rise of smartphones, Android isn't just the top Linux end-user operating system, it's on its way to being the top end-user operating system of all.

Number two with a bullet is Linux-based Android. Android rules the smartphone operating system market no matter whose metrics you use. Canalys found that out of 279.4 million smartphones shipped in Q1 2014, 81 percent were Android devices. IDC claims that Android has two-thirds of 2014's tablet market share sales to date. Looking ahead, IDC predicts that Android will be on 80.2 percent of over 1.2-billion smartphones sold during 2014 .

So, how many Android devices are there today? That's a good question. According to BI Intelligence, there were approximately 1.4 billion smartphones in use by 2013's end. By Gartner's count, there were almost 200 million tablets sold in 2013 with 121 million of those running Android. If there are 1.6 billion mobile device users and 80% of them are Android users, that would mean we have 1.28 billion Android users.

If smartphones and tablet sales continue to grow as expected, Android tablet vendors continue to erode Apple's market share, and PCs continue their decline, Android may end up being the top end-user operating system by the end of 2014—regardless of what happens with the proposed Android PCs.

After Android, however, there's a steep drop off in Linux end-user use. Number two is probably Chrome OS, thanks to the continued excellent sales of low-end Chromebooks. The NPD Group found that Chromebooks accounted for 21 percent of all notebook sales from January to November 2013.

In the field, studies such as the one done by the Chitika ad network have found that Chrome OS now accounts for only 0.2 percent of Web traffic, while all other Linux distributions combined came to 1.9 percent. Put it all together, and Chrome OS by itself accounts for millions of users, but probably not 10 million users yet. After that, statistics break down completely. No one does a good job of tracking the "classic" Linux end-user operating systems.

Chrome_OS_Usage_Sept-13_to_Jan-14
Chromebooks, with Chrome OS, is growing, but it's still far behind Android and the combined "classic" Linux desktop distributions.

DistroWatch, a site that tracks every Linux distribution like a hawk, comes right out and says it:

"The DistroWatch Page Hit Ranking statistics are a light-hearted way of measuring the popularity of Linux distributions and other free operating systems among the visitors of this website. They correlate neither to usage nor to quality and should not be used to measure the market share of distributions. They simply show the number of times a distribution page on DistroWatch.com was accessed each day, nothing more."

That said, their numbers are also the only ones we've got that have consistently tried to measure Linux desktop popularity. So, with their grain of salt in mind, here's what DistroWatch shows as the top three Linux desktops for not just the last year, but the last six months, three months and one month: Mint, Ubuntu, and Debian.

Yes, that's right, the days go by but this trio of Linux operating systems are always the top three. Based on that I think I can safely say they're the most popular classic desktop distributions. I, myself, happily use Mint every day for my desktop.

Beyond that, the other Linux distributions that are constantly fighting for a top spot are Mageia, Fedora, openSUSE, and Arch. If you're looking for a good desktop, I think any of these are worth looking at.

Taken as a whole, Android clearly rules the Linux end-user space. No, you may not think of it as a desktop yet —although AMD and Intel would both like you to change your mind about that — but Android is on its way to being the top end-user operating system of all.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Android, Google, Linux, Mobile OS, Operating Systems, Ubuntu, Windows

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  • Hang On

    Did you take 2013 market share numbers and multiply them by the full install base, because that works only if the market share was coincidentally the install share. Since the market leaders and their shares have changed over the years, that seems to be a methodology oversight.

    Not to take anything away from Linux's success. Not via that quibble over which percentage is the right one for estimating devices. I guess I will take away some of the self-congratulations by the cheerleaders by saying all Linux needed was for some folks to figure out how to make money with it in a rapidly growing, disruptive, sector. It wasn't successful for manifestos by ESR or RMS or because the computing populace thew out proprietary software and huzzahed GPL2 or 3. Success is success, but I merely point out that the success wasn't for the reasons that were used to prove Linux's inevitability a decade ago.

    I also have to think that its success would have been tempered — though it still could have won — had it been an os that was explicitly sold. It still would have had a the time-to-market advantage over post-touch Windows mobile.

    Quite a ways back, I figured the best way to compete with Microsoft was to not compete with Microsoft. (Assuming the latter was important to one.)
    DannyO_0x98
    • One should never trust much on NetApplication statistics....

      ...because they are 76% based on pay-per-click numbers and hardly more than 10% of blogsites and social media. Just tell me one good reason why Linux-users who don't have to buy software at all (because they have it free) would visit those pages?

      Then there is of course that "hundreds of Linux pc:s behind one ip-address effect". And not only in Venezuela, Etiophia, Brazil etc... There are also huge gap between some figures given by StatCounter, for instance 5.2% for pc Linux in France and over 30% in Etiopia during weekends in May 2014.

      Pale truth is of course we would never know the real marketshare of Linux pc. My guess is 4-5%. Not 1-2%. But the real headline is this: over 60% of new devices are using Linux (mostly Android). Hardly more than 15% using Windows (and iOS/OS X)
      MacBroderick
      • 4-5% may be realistic

        I tend to agree with the 4-5% number because that would explain better the recent game developer interest in desktop Linux. I always say that 1% would not be enough for this and game devs would just ignore desktop Linux just like they did before.

        What is even more interesting is the TREND. That Chitika chart shows an almost doubling of Linux desktop share between Sep 2013 - Jan 2014. That is a VERY significant shift, and if sustained, it would fundamentally alter even the visible OS share in a couple of years.
        soltesza
        • NetApplication Stats are simply worthless

          When you consider the number of Android sales both on tablets and phones Worldwide and look at NetApp stats, there simply is no correlation. So something is wrong with NetApp stats.

          If you ever followed how Chrome took over the browser market and you look at NetApp stats, they still report that I dominates, when just by the number of Android devices sold that outnumber windows devices, this simply can't be true, even when you consider installed based. How many of you are using a five year old device, very few for sure.

          Simply put, NetApp stats should be called fudged up Data. At least that's my perception.
          Uralbas
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      Yestu1954
  • Recapping Steven's ranking

    1. Android
    2. Chrome OS
    3. Linux Mint
    4. Ubuntu
    5. Debian

    Here's the problem, Android is a lot like Debian GNU/Linux as both a base distro and a client operating system on its own. Many of Google's Open Handset Alliance partners modify Google's stock Android for their devices. Companies like Amazon and ArchOS, as examples, create their own distro using Google's Android Open Source Project (AOSP). Not to mention the Replicant project which uses AOSP to create a fully open source AOSP derivative.

    If Steven is going to lump all this under Android, then I say lump Linux Mint, Ubuntu and a host of additional GNU/Linux distros based on Debian, under Debian. In addition, lump Chrome OS along with Sabayon, both Gentoo derivatives, under Gentoo. Here's my ranking:

    1. Android
    2. Debian, including Ubuntu, Linux Mint and many others
    3. Gentoo, including Chrome OS and Sabayon
    4. Mageia
    5. Fedora

    Sorry, OpenSUSE fans. :)
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Pure Illusion

      No way that Mint has a bigger installed base than Ubuntu. I have no clue from where people get such an illusion. Mint might be popular with some Linux geeks (typically the crowd which visits once per day distrowatch.com and which is causing that way the distro ranking there). But the Linux desktop mainstream audience is not using Mint.
      hengels
      • Linux Mint is over-rated

        First SJVN adds the disclaimer then he ignores it and says Mint is the most popular. Fanboy alert.

        Here is the problem with DW ratings. DW is for curiosity seekers and people who download smaller distros like Mint.

        Anybody interested is Ubuntu does not go to DW. They go to Ubuntu's site for any questions, including many Mint users, and they also go there to download Ubuntu. Plus many Ubuntu users never download at all. They simply upgrade (something Mint users can't do, BTW). It is not surprising that Mint shows much higher on DW.

        Any metrics that I have seen of actual users on the web where OS is tracked places Mint way down the list. Not even in the top 5 and Ubuntu has at least six times the installed user base. Clem acknowledged this at one point.

        So why does SJVN continue to push the DW figures when he admits they have no validity? He has an agenda, which is to promote Mint at the expense of stronger Linux platforms such as Ubuntu, Debian and openSuSE.

        I do not use Ubuntu myself, but I have tried Mint over a long period of time and find it ugly and lacking. Both Cinnamon and Mate are weak contenders, IMO. I prefer KDE in case you wonder where I am coming from. Full featured. Powerful. Configurable.

        I also think that Linux Mint is positioned badly for the future and users should be concerned. Mint is currently based on Ubuntu but Mint can't keep pace. Their next three releases will be based on the LTS and backports. Also Ubuntu is switching to Mir and Debian is going with Wayland. The separation between the two is becoming unmanageable. So Clem has some tough decisions and it is looking more and more that Linux Mint will stop being based on Ubuntu at some point and more on LMDE which will leave users with a problem. Ubuntu will continue to set the pace and Debian is not the same animal as they are used.
        linuxcanuck@...
        • Both Ubuntu and Linux Mint are popular Debian-based distros

          Linux Journal Readers' Choice Awards 2013
          12/2/2013
          Best Desktop Distribution
          1. Ubuntu 23.2% (Debian-based)
          2. Linux Mint 16% (Debian-based)
          3. Arch Linux 8.7%
          4. Fedora 8.6%
          5. Debian 8.1%
          6. openSUSE 6.1%
          7. Kubuntu 5.6% (Debian-based)

          Source:
          http://www.linuxjournal.com/rc2013?page=7

          Again, aggregating Debian and Debian-based distros, as Steven did for Android in the article, puts Debian far in the lead for conventional GNU/Linux distros.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
      • What I call the Unity effect

        Once Ubuntu started forcing Unity on people that pretty much got loads of us to leave Ubuntu. I and many I know switched to Mint due to that change. Ubuntu no longer listens to it's users where as Mint does. Mint has actually gotten easier to install than Ubuntu which was a bear to get on my equipment the last few LTS with a gambit of problems mostly video related. Mind you I don't have crazy high end hardware... quite the opposite actually. They assume you have high res widescreen monitors by default... So if your still using 1024x768 you boot to a black screen... Not impressive to noobs.

        They have taken a lot of control away from the user which is a big thumbs down.

        I only have Ubuntu on my Lenovo laptop currently due to an unexplainable glitch it seems to have with Mint (being a sudden and complete shutdown like someone took the battery out and unplugged it.) Nasty....
        devlin_X
  • Is OS really important?

    For me devices are more packages than anything else. Most people probably could not tell you if Android, or Chrome OS were related to Linux in any way. Only geeks even care what type of core is running their device. As long as it works, people don't care. The more we have web based apps, cross platform browsers. The less the operating system becomes a end user concern. But as long as we are talking Linux success. I think its clear the key has been Google who has commercially adopted Linux and made it acceptable for non geeks to accept. I don't spend countless hours on my Chromebook trying to get WiFi card to work, or sound or 3D graphics. This is how you introduce Linux to average users. But it remains to be seen if any of this pushes into enterprise?
    Chromebooks are in schools, but tell me how learning a chromebook has anything to do with skills working on a PC with Windows at work? Yes, its cheap which is a primary reason for buying them. But its like teaching automotive technology using Yugo's rather then working on cars these new mechanics will see in the real world.
    JohnnyES-25227553276394558534412264934521
    • It is not the type of computer you work on that teaches you skills

      but rather the type of skills you learn.

      You can learn to program, for instance, on any computer that has a compiler and a text editor.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • The compiler and text editor can also reside on a server in the Cloud

        Two examples:

        https://compilr.com/

        http://ideone.com/

        Thus, students can learn to program with Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, both of which run Chrome OS. And homework can be done on whatever computer is available to the student at home or the local public library.

        P.S. Am agreeing with your statement "It is not the type of computer you work on that teaches you skills
        but rather the type of skills you learn".
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • You beat me to it - sort of

        There are two basic types of computer skills in my view:

        1. User skills (how to do work and/or find relevant/useful information/knowledge using a computer.

        2. Hardware/software skills as in programming or developing/repairing HW.

        I think a better automotive analogy would be being a driver vs designing/building/repairing cars. You do not need to know a lot about designing/building/repairing a Formula One car to be a top Formula One driver.

        If you are very comfortable as a computer user, you can easily learn most basic applications as required. You can become a very competent computer user on any common modern platform. If you are working in CAD/CAM or similar high tech specialized applications, specific knowledge and training would probably be mandatory, but that is not what K-12 is for.

        If you are interested in programming or HW design, any platform will do if the required learning tools are available on that platform.

        In schools, the primary need is to develop basic competency/proficiency in basic application functions, such as text processing and number manipulation, AND to teach the students how to use computers as a learning/knowledge acquisition tool and to separate the wheat from the chaff. For those purposes, Windows, ChromeOS and OSX will all do just fine. A secondary need is to allow those student who are interested to develop basic programing skills. which can also be done on any of the three contenders. Acquisition and support costs may become the deciding factor, which is probably why ChromeOS is making major inroads.
        Economister
    • You seem conflicted.

      First you suggest OS doesn't matter, but then you state you believe students should use Windows.

      Mac_PC_FenceSitter is right, students need to learn things like how format a resume so it's easy to read and looks professional. All word processors can bold, italicize, indent, and have bullet points, but it's how well the author uses those functions that counts, not the program that person uses.
      anothercanuck
      • OS doesn't matter, applications do

        For a real software engineering education, you should have a computer that can run multiple OSes, because OS design is really a part of that education. You also need a computer that supports the entire toolchain for a variety of different programming languages.
        Sacr
      • Totally Agree

        The art of good document format and presentation is one that seems to be being lost these days.
        I receive numerous documents from "professional" organizations that I would be embarrassed to send out. Awful formatting, hard to read, and in-concise.
        No one really enjoys writing documents (well I don't), but put some pride into them.
        And I'm too young to be sounding like that.......... :)
        Boothy_p
  • and yet

    Google bases ChromeOS on Gentoo.

    Me, I like Peppermint OS. It's a nice mix of local and network computing.
    hrlngrv 
  • and yet

    Google bases ChromeOS on Gentoo.

    Me, I like Peppermint OS. It's a nice mix of local and network computing.
    hrlngrv 
  • SjVN determined

    to convince world that Linux is relevant. Keep rowing sir; it's a long way to go but surely you'll get there someday.
    toreoasesino