Warning! The percent symbol (%) is used a lot in this article, which is known to cause headaches in some readers.
Only 32 years after Linus Torvalds sent his famous email announcing Linux to the world, Linux use has risen above 3%, all the way to 3.08% Now, ain’t that some phenomenal growth? At this rate we should hit the 10% mark sometime around 2091, just in time for the Linux Centennial Celebration.
I’m kidding, of course, about the 10% by 2091 thing. For one thing, we probably won’t even be using operating systems then. For another, we will probably have been evicted from the planet long before then. A planet-wide eviction, I understand, is performed by shutting down the life support system, just so you know. You won’t be able to breath. It’ll be like drowning in air instead of water.
But I digress. This article is about the rising use of Linux, not the coming apocalypse.
In reality, the next 3% will probably come along much more quickly. After all, desktop Linux use was at 1.71% in July 2018, so the number has almost doubled in five years.
That curve is bound to continue to point more in an upward direction going forward. Why? More and more, these days, the only people who are using desktops and laptops are people who actually need desktops and laptops, and those people tend to be reasonably tech savvy. Jane and John Doe are much happier doing their important computing on their phone, because using your McApp in a McDonalds drive-through is more than a little on the awkward side when you’re doing it on a desktop.
So, I’d say that we’ll actually hit the 10% mark by, say, 2030. That is, unless increasingly worsening storms caused by climate change have destroyed the power grid by then, in which case only those with emergency backup power will be using computers.
Sorry about getting back on the apocalypse thing again. Predicting the future isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Who Says It’s Hit 3.08%?
I can feel you Microsoft lovers out there now, quaking with rage and demanding to know who said that Linux has recently whittled Windows use down by a whole percent or so. Well, you can’t blame it on me. I don’t even know how to do the math to figure such things out. The numbers come from the geniuses (that’s what I figure they are, anyway) at Statcounter, whose job it is to figure such things out.
And even if you wanted to, you can’t blame Windows slide on Linux (Steve Ballmer, are you listening?), because you guys are down by a lot more than 3%. If you’ll remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Windows had just about monopoly power when it came to desktop use, with a market share of something like 95%. These days it’s at 69.15%, down from 82.88% in July 2018 — a slide of almost 14% in the last five years.
So, who’s been eating your lunch? Well, Linux has a percent or two of that, but it’s basically Apple, with OS X (I thought they were calling that MacOS or something like that now). Computers running the operating system for The House that Jobs Built now command 21.38% of the market, which is way up from the 5% or so that I remember them having back when Windows was the Ma Bell of home computing.
Chromebooks: Available in Stores
Ya know who’s also way up? How about Chrome OS, which didn’t even exist back in the day. Chromebooks now evidently account for 4.15% of computer use, which is a lot for an operating system that’s basically still in grade school.
When I think about it, Chrome OS might prove a point that many of us were making about Linux back in ancient times. The thinking was in those days that the reason why Linux wasn’t getting traction among everyday PC users was because the everyday PC user wasn’t someone who even knew there were other operating systems besides Windows, much less that you could buy a machine and install your own operating system on it. Even if they did, most users didn’t have to inclination or the skill to do so.
What was needed, Linux advocates said, was for affordably priced machines from mainstream brands like Dell or HP to be available in mass market electronic shops such as Circuit City or CompUSA (remember them?), sitting on display alongside Windows and Mac machines. Now, while it’s true that we now have plenty of choices for buying machines with Linux preinstalled these days, both from companies such as System76 that specialize in Linux boxes, and mainstream vendors like Dell, HP, and Lenovo who pay the rent selling Windows machines, few if any of these preinstalled Linux boxes are reasonably priced and none of them are available off-the-shelf at your local Best Buy, Walmart, or Target stores — or wherever else people go to buy computers these days.
Do you know what is available at those stores that isn’t running Windows or MacOS? Chromebooks, with most priced in the $250-$500 sweet spot for casual users or students just needing something to get them through school. People are buying them, even though they’re not running Windows, meaning they might have to learn to do some tasks a little differently than they’re used to, which was also something people used to say was a stumbling block to Linux adoption.
How many people are buying Chromebooks? According to Statista, in 2022 laptops running Chrome OS accounted for 12.3% of all laptops shipped worldwide. In 2021 the number was 15%.
So yes, we were right back in the days when most of us were connecting via dial-up and colo data centers were bragging about having T1 lines. If Target were to display mid-to-low priced laptops or desktops with an easy-to-use Linux distro like, say Mint or Elementary preinstalled, people would be buying them and Linux would be seeing usage rates above 5%.
The Suspicious ‘Unknown’ Catagory
The category that is most interesting, from a perspective of Linux’s low usage numbers, is the ‘Unknown’ OS category, which I’m assuming means “we don’t know what the frack operating system this person is running” — a category that, according to Statcounter, logs-in at 3.23%, or 0.15% higher than Linux.
Now, I’m no professional researcher (even though I pretend to be one on several websites), but I figure that if real researchers don’t know what operating system a machine is running, then it must either not be identifying itself (like to gain access to a platform that won’t “doesn’t” support Linux, but which supports Linux fine if it doesn’t know that the connecting machine is running Linux) or it’s identifying itself as something the researchers never heard of — like maybe some obscure Linux distribution (remember, to a researcher raised in the world of Windows and Macs, any Linux distro that’s not Ubuntu might be considered obscure).
I think you might see where I’m going with this. If not, I’ll explain.
Let’s say that two-thirds of the computers in that “Unknown” category are some unrecognized form of Linux. That would bring Linux’s share above 5%, which is higher than Chrome OS’s current numbers. Therefore, in the power vested in me by a piece of paper I got once from some fake church, I hereby proclaim that two-thirds of the OSes in the Unknown category are actually Linux, and that Linux actually has a larger global desktop presence than Chrome OS.
See how easy that was? Just don’t examine my logic too closely and you’ll be fine.