Many people have made much of the fact that for the first time, Linux use as measured by tracking firm Net Applications has crossed the 1% market-share barrier. As significant milestones go, this is about as meaningless as it gets. Linux will never be a big player in the desktop market, nor should it be.
Net Applications tracks operating system usage on the internet. In its latest results, it reports:
"Linux usage share on client devices has surpassed 1% for the first time in our tracking. Linux has been successful primarily as a server operating system, but client usage share has not kept pace with server share. Linux has reached this important milestone on the client as Linux-based systems have become more functional, easier to use, and pre-installed on computers from vendors like Dell."
Linux guru and my compatriot in blogging, Steven Vaughn-Nichols, believes that Linux may eventually reach 10% to 20% of market share.
I think that Steven's estimate is far off the mark. I'd be shocked if Linux ever came close to approaching even 5% of market share, and I believe even 2% will be a stretch.
To understand why, let's look at how Linux reached 1% market share. Linux was first created in 1991 — that's 18 years ago. To reach 1% market share in 18 years is not a particularly difficult task, especially considering the operating system is available for free.
For most of Linux's history, it wasn't even a blip on the radar of any market share figures, apart from server market share. There it's a strong presence and deservedly so. It's a flat-out great operating system for servers.
The desktop is where it has floundered and for good reason. There are too many variants of Linux, and while it has gotten much easier to use, when you need to install software on Linux or update the OS, it's far too complicated.
As I wrote about in "Living free with Linux: 2 weeks without Windows", I've become a fan of Linux. It can use less-powerful hardware than Windows and is surprisingly simple to use — with the exception of updating and installing software, that is. I now use Ubuntu regularly.
Why has Linux finally broken the 1% barrier? Because of netbooks. Initially, Linux had a big netbook market share of 30% or so. So the 1% breakthrough is due entirely to netbook use, not Linux use on desktops, where it still flounders. Sure, you can buy Linux on a Dell, if you try hard enough. But otherwise, good luck. And that's the way it will stay.
Linux will never become a mainstream operating system on desktops, and so for client machines, it will remain largely confined to netbooks. Market surveys have shown that Linux sales on netbooks have plunged to only 10% of netbooks.
Given that, how will Linux ever reach 10% to 20% of the market? The answer: it never will. Linux will remain a niche operating system, and a very good one at that.
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