Forgive the stating of the obvious, and the use of the same word twice in one sentence, but small numbers have, by their nature, a habit of looking very small. Over the past couple of months, I’ve read several times and in several places about how Linux desktop usage makes us less than 1% of the worldwide operating system market. 1%! That’s nothing! We should all just give up and go home!
Now 1% wouldn’t be a big number if we were talking about the visitors to my local shop. But we’re not. We’re talking about people who use a computer. Let’s suggest, for the sake of argument, that there are a billion computer users in the world. The total is likely to be a little less than that, depending on who you believe, but as a ballpark figure, it’s not a bad place to start.
So let’s do the maths. 1% of one billion people? That’s’ ten million. Even if you scale the numbers down a little bit to allow for marginal error and PR nonsense, it’s fair to suggest that there are around five to eight million daily users of Linux on their desktop.
That, all of a sudden, is not such a small number, and one that’s set to bounce higher in the near future when Google releases its strangely controlled Chrome OS ‘open source’ operating system next year. Granted, in comparison to the numbers of Mac OS and Windows, Linux’s desktop userbase is small, but it’s nonetheless growing, and become a more and more attractive option.
Not just for cash reasons, either, although the idea of getting a power-packed operating system for gratis is still one that amazingly few people have wrapped their heads around (see also: Skype). I’ve been playing with the latest edition of Linux Mint, and it’s a distribution that’s everything right with open source. It’s a derivative of Ubuntu, it’s been tailored to a more specific (media) purpose, and if you don’t like it, you can move on and try something else instead.
Realistically, 2010 is no more likely to be a revelatory year for Linux than 2009 was. But it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t have to do what Windows does, and fix problems with new releases every couple of years. The core product is evolving in many guises very well.
If it could do one thing differently for the year ahead, though, the Linux movement as a whole could use shouting a bit louder. Google will be lending the idea of open source operating systems a megaphone at the end of 2010, but even with that, there are millions upon millions of Linux users across the planet. And it’s in their hands, and their recommendations, where the true power, and arguably the future growth, of Linux lies.
Simon Brew is a technology writer and editor, working across the Linux, Windows and Mac OS platforms. He’s also an ex-editor of Linux User & Developer.