The most popular end-user Linux distributions are...

The most popular end-user Linux distributions are...

Summary: ...almost certainly not the ones you're thinking of.


Take a second and think about end-user Linux. Now guess: Which is the most popular of all?

If you're a long time Linux user, chances are you guessed Ubuntu, Mint, Debian, or Fedora.

You'd be wrong.

The most popular end-user Linux, without any question, is Android. In 2014, Gartner estimates that there will be a billion Android tablets and smartphones sold in that year. Gartner predicts that more Android units alone will ship than all Apple and Microsoft powered devices combined..

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Yes, Android is Linux. It was always Linux. There were differences at one time, but Android officially rejoined the Linux family in March 2012.

OK, so what do you think is the second most popular Linux? This one is trickier. There are no useful desktop Linux surveys.

The closest we can come is DistroWatch's Page Hit ranking. Distrowatch is the master Linux desktop tracking site for desktop Linux user data and news. But as the DistroWatch site managers themselves write, "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 was accessed each day, nothing more."

Even so, it's the closest we have to a way of measuring which Linux desktop operating systems are hot and which ones are not. So, I find it surprising that what I believe to be the second most popular end-user Linux desktop doesn't show up on DistroWatch at all.

Still, my pick for the second most possible Linux desktop is...

Google's Chrome OS.

Yes, Chrome OS is also Linux. It's Linux that uses Google's Chrome Web browser as its main interface.

We don't know how many copies of Chrome OS -- or to be more precise how many Chromebooks running Chrome OS -- are out there. Chromebook's numbers are confusing.

With everyone from Linux's top experts to Amazon buyers praising it, I have to think that Chrome OS is now the most popular desktop Linux of all.

Vince Vizzaccaro, EVP of Marketing and Strategic Alliances for NetApplications's NetMarketShare (the site most often quoted for operating system and Web browser popularity), told me that they do measure Chromebook usage, but it hasn’t surpassed 0.1 percent in any market, so it doesn’t show up in our reports." At most, Vizzaccro said, it was ringing up to a minute, "0.02 percent usage."

At the same time, Amazon's top-selling laptop since January 2013 has been Samsung's low-end, ARM-powered Chromebook. Today, June 24, 2013, the $249 Samsung Chromebook is still Amazon's top-selling laptop.

Besides Samsung, many other PC vendors are now backing Chrome OS. Acer, HP, Lenovo, and Google, with its own high-end Chromebook Pixel all have models in the marketplace.

It's getting so you can find Chromebooks everywhere. Best Buy, Office Depot, Office Max, Fry’s and TigerDirect are all either already selling Chromebooks or will be summer's end. Acer is even selling its $199 C710-2856 Chromebook at Walmart, the United States' favorite superstore.

Someone, many someones, must be buying Chromebooks or so many vendors wouldn't be backing it. Pre-installed desktop Linux from major computer OEMs first showed up in May 2007 when Dell backed Ubuntu, but it's always been a small market. Even at the height of the Linux netbook craze in late 2008, I don't recall seeing so much support for Linux desktops.

It's not just Joe and Jane User looking for a cheap notebook. Linus Torvalds, Linux's founder, loves the Chromebook Pixel, albeit he's running Fedora instead of Chrome OS on it.

Chrome OS does have its support among Linux's royalty. Greg Kroah-Hartman, a top Linux kernel developer, recently wrote of the Chromebook Pixel that while he has issues with it, "My day-job (Linux kernel work) means that I can't use Chrome OS as I can't change the kernel, but almost everyone else can use Chrome OS, especially if your company uses Google Apps for email and the like. Chrome OS is really good, I like it, and I think it is the way forward for a large segment of laptop users. My daughter weekly asks me if I'm willing to give the laptop to her to reinstall Chrome OS on it, as that's her desktop of choice, and this laptop runs it better than anything I've seen."

With everyone from Linux's top experts to Amazon buyers praising it, I have to think that Chrome OS is now the most popular desktop Linux of all.

As for the "traditional" Linux desktop, the current DistroWatch list from fifth place to first, reads like this: Fedora, Debian, Mageia, Ubuntu, and Mint.

The only surprise on that list is Mageia, which is a Mandriva fork that I've honestly never seen anyone use. Maybe I'm just not hanging out with the right crowd.

Personally, my own top Linux distributions mirror the list of the most popular ones. I use Android on my tablets and my smartphone; Chrome OS on a Chromebook Pixel; and Mint on my Dell desktop and my Lenovo ThinkPads.

Related Stories:

Topics: Laptops, Google, Linux, Smartphones, Tablets, Ubuntu

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  • Except....

    This is a wee bit misleading.

    Android runs ON Linux. And the joined the Linux Foundation to make sure their interests in the OS on which their 'app' (if you will) runs are protected.

    But it's rather disingenuous to suggest that Android = Linux. For one thing, Xamarin has shown that you could port Android to a Windows foundation without too much trouble, and most apps will run fine (apps that us NDK will have problems, for example).

    The other thing that keeps getting missed in this is that if Android is the 'most successful Linux', it's done it by completely obliterating ANY trace of the actual Linux under it. Yes, it's there - but almost no one knows it or wants to know it. It could be QNX or Windows or MacOS or iOS under the hood - it would be the same Android. That's not a compelling testimony to the innate superiority of Linux... more that it's the only free OS on the block.

    But hey, you got take what good news you can, I suppose...
    • Open a terminal on your 'droid...

      ...and you can see that it's still GNU and Linux underneath.
      John L. Ries
      • Android, while it is Linux, is not GNU/Linux

        Android is licensed under the Apache 2.0 license, save for the Linux kernel which falls under the GPL. And, for the OP, the Linux kernel is indeed a component of Android as it is with any "traditional" GNU/Linux distro.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • While I'm not completely certain of this...

          ...I do believe that the Dalvik VM living inside of Android uses glibc. I am also given to understand that the UNIX-style utilities available from the Android terminal are part of BusyBox, which is statically linked to GNU libraries.
          John L. Ries
          • Certainly...

            ...the UNIX toys that come with Android seem to work a lot more like the GNU versions than they do like the ones defined by the POSIX standard.]
            John L. Ries
          • My understanding is that Dalvik was built using Apache's Harmony

            Both Dalvik and Harmony are licensed under the Apache 2.0 license.

            More here:

            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • John

            >>UNIX-style utilities available from the Android terminal
            1. busy box is not available on the minimal Android system
            as well as the terminal application. Android doesn't have a shell, you gotta install it as well as the GNU base-utils and this is not an easy (to say nothing about the GNU Emacs).

            2. Arm based systems are still much more of a hassle that, although 99% of them run Linux-based Android very well, they require a lot of non-free locked-in elements. So, one generically compiled kernel and boot system won't fit them all, unlike in the x86 case. GPUs and SoCs are mostly proprietary. Things are getting better though, but still it is a pain ...
            As far as I am concerned, I won't consider buying another tablet until I make sure a proper GNU Linux can be installed on it and used.
            Hopefully, Tizen and Sailfish will be helpful.
          • Emacs

            As far as I can tell, one of the only UNIX "distros" out there that ship with Emacs, is Mac OS X. IIRC, I didn't have emacs on Ubuntu without installation, and on my OpenSUSE laptop I use Vim. I just checked; there is no on the default install. What distro does use emacs as default? I must know.
            Nicholas Mazzuca
          • emacs

            won't run on Android, at least for me. I didn't mean Emacs is installed on most distros by default. There is an Android app though, it just didn't work for me though. It always no big deal to install it on the proper GNU Linux. I think vi or a mini-vi ships with busybox. BTW, vi is not shipped with "barebone" Android
          • Slackware installs Emacs with the [E] package group

            Emacs is part of a default Slackware installation if you keep the [E] package group selected.

            Kiki Novak
          • Emacs in Linux

            Slackware has Emacs as part of the standard installation.
          • This is my understanding.....

            Emacs is in Debian's Repository; therefore, all Debian forks should have it. Go to the CLI of any Debian fork:

            $ apt-get install emacs
          • Re: that ship with Emacs, is Mac OS X

            Unfortunately, Emacs is horrible to use on OS X, because so many of its standard keystrokes have been usurped by the system for other purposes.

            I did try, once. After about 10 minutes, I was begging for a Windows machine.
          • It's nothing to do with ARM,

            you can run Debian on ARM hardware, just look at the Pi.
            Carl Draper
          • yes

            it has to do with arm SoC OEMs more than ARM holding. However, I heard that ARM recently scolded Lima project that is trying to write an open driver for Mali GPU through reverse engineering of the proprietary one. Not a good sign.
          • You can load your choice of shells

            in every other Linux distro as well. The CLI is a modular component just as the GUI is. The kernel being Linux makes the OS a Linux OS. Changes to the CLI and GUI do not make it no longer Linux.
          • Re: Android doesn't have a shell

            Yes it does, it's called "Toolbox". Plug an Android device into a PC with the SDK installed, and try the "adb shell" command.
          • so it's out of the pc

            plus you have to install Android SDK. I meant that it is not in the *minimal* Android that google ships. It's easier to actually install busybox with /bin/ash or something similar.
          • Re: I do believe that the Dalvik VM living inside of Android uses glibc

            No, Google did their own cut-down alternative to glibc, called "Bionic".
        • Really

          I open a terminal and do a uname -r and I get 3.0.31 for the kernel. Interesting thing is you can find a Linux Kernel Log for this Kernel so I would say it is exactly that.