5 reasons why desktop Linux is finally growing in popularity

StatCounter reported that desktop Linux reached over 4% market share for the first time. I've used Linux for years. Here's why I think it's finally catching on with more people.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
digitally generated penguins on orange background
Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

For years now, the most popular end-user operating worldwide has been Linux. Or, to be more precise, it's Android. According to the Irish analysis site Statcounter's most recent numbers, Android had 43.74% of the market in February 2024, followed by Windows with 27.39%. On the desktop, as it's been for decades, Windows is still the champ. Recently, though, desktop Linux has crawled up to 4.03%

Also: KDE Neon shows that the Plasma 6 Linux distro is something truly special

If you count ChromeOS as Linux, which I do, with its 2.26% market share, Linux is even more popular. Mind you, modern Chromebooks's ChromeOS owes more to the open-source, real-time operating system Zephyr than it does Linux.   

Why is Linux finally growing? 

That's a good question. While Windows is the king of the hill with 72.13% and MacOS comes in a distant second at 15.46%, it's clear that Linux is making progress. Below I'll go over the five reasons why I think it's growing but first let's look at the headwinds.

I can tell you in great, painful detail why we haven't yet had a "Year of the Linux desktop". Linus Torvalds himself has already explained why we'll never see a classic Linux desktop on every PC: fragmentation.

Also: Do you need antivirus on Linux?

If you take a serious look at the Linux desktop, since the days when the big desktop debate was whether you'd use the Borne or C shell, there have always been multiple versions of Linux. 

According to DistroWatch, the master site of Linux distributions, there are over 200 Linux distributions. On those, you'll find over 21 different desktop interfaces. There are more than half a dozen different package managers to install software on Linux. These include Debian Package Management System (DPKG), Red Hat Package Manager (RPM), Pacman, Zypper, and more besides. In addition to those, there are newer containerized package managers such as Flatpak, Snap, and AppImage.

Heck, I make my living tracking the Linux desktop, and I can't keep track of them all. Ordinary users, who just want to get their work done or have fun? Forget about it. They can't do it. I wouldn't expect them to.  

Also: The best Linux laptops: Expert tested and reviewed

It also doesn't help that the major Linux distributors -- Canonical, Red Hat, and SUSE -- don't make the Linux desktop a priority. Of course, they have desktops. Canonical and Red Hat, in particular, also strongly influence the look and feel of the Linux desktop, but the desktop isn't their priority. Why would it be? They make their money from servers, containers, the cloud, and the Internet of Things. 

So, why is Linux still gathering steam?

1. Microsoft isn't that interested in Windows

If you think Microsoft is all about the desktop and Windows, think again. Microsoft's profits these days come from its Azure cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Microsoft 365 in particular. Microsoft doesn't want you to buy Windows; the Redmond powerhouse wants you to subscribe to Windows 365 Cloud PC. And, by the way, you can run Windows 365 Cloud PC on Macs, Chromebooks, Android tablets, iPads, and, oh yes, Linux desktops.

2. Linux gaming, thanks to Steam, is also growing

Gaming has never been a strong suit for Linux, but Linux gamers are also a slowly growing group. I suspect that's because Steam, the most popular Linux gaming platform, also has the lion's share of the gaming distribution market

3. Users are finally figuring out that some Linux distros are easy to use

Even now, you'll find people who insist that Linux is hard to master. True, if you want to be a Linux power user, Linux will challenge you. But, if all you want to do is work and play, many Linux distributions are suitable for beginners. For example, Linux Mint is simple to use, and it's a great end-user operating system for everyone and anyone. 

4. Finding and installing Linux desktop software is easier than ever

While some Linux purists dislike containerized application installation programs such as Flatpak, Snap, and AppImage, developers love them. Why? They make it simple to write applications for Linux that don't need to be tuned just right for all the numerous Linux distributions. For users, that means they get more programs to choose from, and they don't need to worry about finicky installation details.

5. The Linux desktop is growing in popularity in India 

India is now the world's fifth-largest economy, and it's still growing. Do you know what else is growing in India? Desktop Linux. In India, Windows is still the number one operating system with 70.37%, but number two is Linux, with 15.23%. MacOS is way back in fourth place with 3.11%.

Also: 5 ways LibreOffice meets my writing needs better than Google Docs can

I suspect this is the case because India's economy is largely based on technology. Where you find serious programmers, you find Linux users.

So stay tuned. Heck, if Microsoft continues to move away from the old-school desktop in favor of Windows as a Service, maybe we will have a year of the Linux desktop! It could happen!  

Editorial standards