Is the Linux Desktop actually growing?

No, the Linux desktop will never knock off Windows, but it may actually be a bigger player on traditional desktops than usually believed.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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