The five most popular end-user Linux distributions

There are over a billion Linux end-users in the world in 2014. Yes, that's right, a billion.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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.

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