​No, the Linux desktop hasn't jumped in popularity

Stories have been circulating that the Linux desktop had jumped in popularity and was used more than macOS. Alas, it's not so.

There have been numerous stories that the Linux desktop has more than doubled from its usual 1.5 to 3 percent marketshare to 5 percent. These reports have been based on NetMarketShare's desktop operating system analysis, which showed Linux leaping from 2.5 percent in July, to almost 5 percent in September. But unfortunately for Linux fans, it's not true.

Neither does it appear to be Google's Chrome OS, which tends to be under-represented in NetMarketShare and StatCounter desktop operating system numbers, being counted as Linux. Mind you, that would be fair, since Chrome OS is based on Linux.

The real explanation is far more mundane. It seems to be merely a mistake. Vince Vizzaccaro, NetMarketShare's executive marketing share of marketing told me, "The Linux share being reported is not correct. We are aware of the issue and are currently looking into it."

If that sounds odd to you, that's because you probably think that NetMarketShare and StatCounter simply count user numbers. They don't. Instead, each uses its own secret sauce to come up with operating system numbers.

NetMarketShare's methodology is to "collect data from the browsers of site visitors to our exclusive on-demand network of HitsLink Analytics and SharePost clients. The network includes over 40,000 websites, and spans the globe. We 'count' unique visitors to our network sites, and only count one unique visit to each network site per day."

The company then weights the data by country. "We compare our traffic to the CIA Internet Traffic by Country table, and weight our data accordingly. For example, if our global data shows that Brazil represents 2% of our traffic, and the CIA table shows Brazil to represent 4% of global Internet traffic, we will count each unique visitor from Brazil twice."

How exactly do they "weigh" that single visit per day to a site data? We don't know.

StatCounter also has its own method. It uses a "tracking code installed on more than 2 million sites globally. These sites cover various activities and geographic locations. Every month, we record billions of page views to these sites. For each page view, we analyse the browser/operating system/screen resolution used and we establish if the page view is from a mobile device. ... We summarize all this data to get our Global Stats information.

We provide independent, unbiased stats on internet usage trends. We do not collate our stats with any other information sources. No artificial weightings are used."

How do they summarize their data? Guess what? We don't know that either.

So whenever you see operating system or browser numbers from either of these often-quoted services, take them with a very large grain of salt.

For the most accurate, albeit US-centric operating system and browser numbers, I prefer to use data from the federal government's Digital Analytics Program (DAP).

Unlike the others, DAP's numbers come from billions of visits over the past 90 days to over 400 US executive branch government domains. That's about 5,000 total websites, and includes every cabinet department. DAP gets its raw data from a Google Analytics account. DAP has open-sourced the code, which displays the data on the web and its data-collection code. Best of all, unlike the others, you can download its data in JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) format so you can analyze the raw numbers yourself.

In the US Analytics site, which summarizes DAP's data, you will find desktop Linux, as usual, hanging out in "other" at 1.5 percent. Windows, as always, is on top with 45.9 percent, followed by Apple iOS, at 25.5 percent, Android at 18.6 percent, and macOS at 8.5 percent.

Sorry folks, I wish it were higher too. Indeed, I am sure it is. No one, not even DAP, seems to do a good job of pulling out the Linux-based Chrome OS data. Still, the Linux desktop remains the preserve for Linux experts, software developers, system administrators, and engineers. Linux fans must remain content with the top dog operating system in all other computing devices -- servers, clouds, supercomputers, etc.


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