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Attempts to Count Linux Users Remain Pointless

CmdrTaco posted more than 7 years ago | from the can-i-count-all-the-racks-seperately dept.

Linux 304

An anonymous reader writes "A great deal of attention is paid to numbers, but rarely does one actually ask what these numbers mean. One problem that many people have been trying to tackle is gauging the extent of use of Free software, including Linux. Questionnaires are not a solution here and neither are statistics, which are usually derived from the wrong data. The following article looks at the various challenges at hand and concludes that the growth rate of Linux is likely to remain an enigma."

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Start counting here (0)

bruunb (709544) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800745)

I, for one, use GNU/Linux and only F/OSS

Re:Start counting here (1)

The_Fire_Horse (552422) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800807)

n = n + 1

Re:Start counting here (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801019)


Re:Start counting here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801173)


Re:Start counting here (1)

projektdotnet (1061236) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801537)


Two (3, Funny)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800817)

World domination is at hand!

Full article text [print] (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19800879) 87616 []

Doesn't really say anything, but here you go.

Re:Start counting here (3, Funny)

growse (928427) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800883)

Anyone else? Or shall we approximate the linux userbase size as being "1"?

Re:Start counting here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801493)

I use linux. So that's two, unless I'm just bruunb stuffing the ballot box.

Re:Start counting here (1)

EatHam (597465) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801643)

What kind of engineer are you? We say the linux userbase it at least one.

A good slashdot poll (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19800893)

A good slashdot poll is all we need.

Those are very accurate and representative.

Re:A good slashdot poll (5, Funny)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801233)

and we'll conclude 18% of the world uses the CowboyNeal Microthreaded Kernel fork of Planet Nine

Re:Start counting here (2, Funny)

Guillersk (927093) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800901)

Tree :)

Re:Start counting here (5, Funny)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800927)

I, for one, use GNU/Linux and only F/OSS

Where shall we mail your trophy?

Re:Start counting here (1)

kseise (1012927) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800949)

I have linux installed on all four home computers. Put me down for 4. All happen to be Ubuntu also, if that helps count.

Re:Start counting here (3, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801435)

That's the whole problem. If I count home and work, I have more than 20 linux "servers" of which one is a cluster containing twice that many machines. But I'm the only person who uses them (well, the only person who directly uses them, e.g. logs into them), so really, in terms of users that's just 1...You can't count everyone who goes to a webpage, or uses a bind, ntp, samba, squid, etc service to be a linux user.

That's why it's hard to count. Windows users are easy: it's almost all 1 to 1. I have 1 windows machine, so mark me down for 1 in the windows category as well. You can be even more specific and count windows licenses; this is misleading...My workplace has a great number of unused windows licenses...But it's a good number with documentation behind it, whereas linux can only count support contracts with big linux vendors.

Re:Start counting here (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19800967)

Well that is already more than Windows Vista.

words from microsoft: (5, Funny)

yourmomisfasterthana (1097719) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800759)

"Do not attempt to count the number of Linux users, thats impossible, instead, try to realize the truth... there is no Linux" :-P

We are all already linux users (1)

metaphorever (906202) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800779)

Maybe it's pointless because we are all already linux users [] .

Full Liberation is Not Pointless. (2, Insightful)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801175)

Desktop liberation is important because it prevents sabotage in other seemingly unrelated areas like, power management and portable music players. As long as M$ has the lion's share of desktops, they can put pressure on vendors, equipment makers and even on line service providers like Google. Everyone else loses when M$ wins.

This power is severely degraded now, thanks to Vista and Apple. When you combine Apple's 10% share with the GNU/Linux 5%, you get numbers that have bottom line implications. That goes double when all the "decision makers" are in that 15%. The bottom line is performance. M$ suffers as much or more than anyone else from their attempts at sabotage because the kludges add up to workarounds, bloat and instability. These things show painfully in Vista and it's hurt sales.

Despite the attempts at sabotage, GNU/Linux continues to work better than other software. This is key to both adoption and motivation. Desktop adopters get systems that are light years ahead of others for networking and stability, without losing applications and features. Vista is not much better than XP, but the average GNU/Linux distribution is better than both. The average Windoze user has a spectrum of ageing, non free software that has trouble talking to itself, much less sharing files across a home network or the internet. Purchasing Vista and a $400 office suits does not improve the situation for them, it just adds another box that won't talk to the others. Replacing everything with free software fixes every computer in the house. The sooner the end user moves, the better off they are.

Re:Full Liberation is Not Pointless. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801645)

Oh, shut up, for crying out loud. You're making Linux users look bad, and we need good publicity, not angry bullshit.

Argue for Linux on its merits (administration, stability, freedom) not against Microsoft for your invented slights against you and the community.

Not really (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801359)

Most of the traffic on my blog nergy.html [] comes from slashdot. There might be a bias that windows users are more interested in renewable energy but I kind of doubt it. The feedburner ratios wrt to XP in the last month are

XP: 1
And a few others

Feedburner seems to miss quite a lot, but unless it is really undercounting linux, it would look like slashdot readers prefer XP as a plurality.
Windows is less efficient. You need solar power: -selling-solar.html []

Re:Not really (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801497)

Feedburner seems to miss quite a lot, but unless it is really undercounting linux, it would look like slashdot readers prefer XP as a plurality.

I'm usually running Windows XP when I browse slashdot. Of course, this is because I usually browse slashdot when I'm goofing off at work and have no choice in the matter of which operating system my work PC will run. =) And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Re:Not really (1)

eheldreth (751767) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801795)

I only have one issue with your post. You state it looks like "it would look like slashdot readers prefer XP as a plurality". I would assume that most slashdot readers tend to use the site while at work (come on be honest now). If this is the case they may not have direct control over which OS they are using. For instance the use of XP on our systems is mandated by our corporate office. We are just a small satellite in the middle of no where and TPTB could care less which OS I think we should be running.

hmm. (3, Insightful)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800827)

well I skimmed TFA and conclude we can now expect in these comments:-

(1) a lot of foaming at the mouth rants and statistics from Linux evangelists
(2) some distie bashing thrown in for good measure
(3) the inevitable vista comments and hints about massive marketing campaigns
(4) maybe some mention of PCs shipped with Linux pre-installed
(5) if we are really lucky maybe the odd referenced fact

.. and nobody being better informed at then end of it.

Re:hmm. (3, Funny)

neonmonk (467567) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800919)

Er, haven't you heard..

2008 will be the year of the Linux Desktop, so it's all irrelevant now!

Re:hmm. (1)

fosterNutrition (953798) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800945)

You're probably right, but I'm not sure if you're saying that this will happen because of the quality of the article, or the quality of slashdot posters. In either case, the summary/article itself doesn't really help, given the nonsensical statements like

Questionnaires are not a solution here and neither are statistics, which are usually derived from the wrong data.
Ah yes, damned statistics; always getting in the way when I'm trying to gather reliable... statistics. And don't get me started on asking questions, that's clearly the worst way to get answers to things I want to know.

Really now, what are they trying to say? They can't actually mean "statistics are useless when trying to gather statistics," can they? And how can there be "wrong data" in a situation like this? Either someone does or does not use Linux. I'm not really a Linux evangelist, but the article sounds like nonsense to me.

Re:hmm. (1)

lessermilton (863868) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801145)

We deal in Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics --Statiticians everywhere!

Re:hmm. (1)

kc2keo (694222) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800983)

Why should it matter if its so difficult to track GNU/Linux users? I would rather stay anonymous in that fashion. I would hate for my distro once installed to transmit data anonymously to my distros HQ much like M$ does with its WGA crap. When using GNU/Linux I know I have full authority over my system. Using M$ I do not have that freedom. The only thing I dislike about using *nix is that its lacking in popular gaming titles. Not talking about using Cedega its lacking native popular titles and that makes me sad :-( --kc2keo

Re:hmm. (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801045)

You're way off base. All of the people in my department at work run Linux, so clearly Linux is already dominating the desktop. The fact that my department is made up of entirely Linux sysadmins should not take anything away from this single statistically relevant sample. Of course, we all run Red Hat because Gentoo is for masochists and Ubuntu has a stupid name. Sure, Microsoft's brainwashing^Wmarketing may lead you to believe that Vista is all the rage, but everyone knows it's a memory hog that barely runs on most supercomputers. Especially now with Linux being pre-installed on so many desktops, Microsoft is bound to go bankrupt any day now.

Also, did you know that the longest recorded frog jump was 33 feet 5.5 inches [] ? Amazing!

Re:hmm. (0, Troll)

c_woolley (905087) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801261)

Oh Yeah, well....

1 Trillion-Gazlillion people use Linux.
Which sucks, since I hate Linux.
Vista rules and no other computer OS will come close until MS creates a new one.
No PC manufacturer will ever ship a Linux based peice of junk.
Go to ucks.htm [] for more information.

There, I think I covered all of your points.

Re:hmm. -- you forgot (2, Funny)

enrevanche (953125) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801311)

(6) in soviet russia, ... (7) profit (8) someone will smugly summarize the whole thing in one post

It depends on your definition. (4, Insightful)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800859)

A "Linux user" could be anything from a hardcore Gentoo-compiling mad man of a Linux user to somebody who uses a phone or other device which has embedded Linux. I for one dual boot so for purposes of this attempt at a survey am I half of a linux user? I use several devices with embedded Linux distros so am I 80% Linux user? Does the device need to be capable of browsing to a webpage or (as is cliche on /.) does it just have to run Linux?

Re:It depends on your definition. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19800957)

Actually, you don't care. The important figure is the installed base: how many machines in any given class are running Linux? Preferably, you want to be able to break that down into different distributions, too.

Re:It depends on your definition. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801011)

Well lets start counting every one of the Linksys routers that that ran Linux and all the Tivos ever sold.
Then throw all the NSLU users and goodness knows what other little device that used Linux.
Now for fun throw in everybody that uses Google :)
Everybody uses Linux.

We're all users (1)

pedestrian crossing (802349) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801111)

The other day I was in an Edeka [] , and happened to see the Tux/Linux Inside logo on their cash register display. It made my day...

Re:It depends on your definition. (1)

xtracto (837672) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801167)

A "Linux user" could be anything from a hardcore Gentoo-compiling mad man of a Linux user to somebody who uses a phone or other device which has embedded Linux..

That is very true. I think the first step in measuring something is defining /exactly/ what do you want to measure. I could argue that /everyone/ is using Linux each time they go to or or one of the thousands of servers running Linux. But I guess when referring to "running linux" articles usually refer to desktop computers and about using Ubuntu, Mandriva, Linspire, Xandros or any of the very user-friendly Linux distributions. How can we measure that?, I am certain that you can not get the *exact* number but you can take a sample via telephone poll for example. I am no expert on that but I know there *are* mechanisms developed for polling and other kinds of population data gathering .

Are you now or have you ever been... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801307)

Define it as someone who's willing to be counted [] .

I think (1)

Jaaay (1124197) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800861)

estimates are reasonably accuarate from most studies I've seen. Linux is a very big niche right now in the OS desktop market and a lot bigger in the server market. You'll never get accurate statistics because one of the reason linux spreads so fast is it's available everywhere and can just be downloaded without hassle and a lot of different distros from a lot of different people, a very good guess is all you'll ever get.

Firefox (5, Funny)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800865)

I'm going to offer the same solution I did for counting Firefox users:

1) Require a national ID number to download any Linux distro, and validation of ownership of this number through an in-person meeting with the local authorities.

2) Have the software "phone home" that it's actually being used, when it's used.

3) Close the source so that 2) can be facilitated.

4) Made the ID numbers and contact information in 1) publicly available so anyone can audit the official count of users.

There, done, you've got everyone counted. Wasn't that easy?

Re:Firefox (3, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800913)

How about we just ask for a show of hands.

Re:Firefox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801013)

A random sample survey is often more accurate than a full-blown census.

Get the genuine advantage (2, Funny)

Cheesey (70139) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801485)

1) Require a national ID number to download any Linux distro, and validation of ownership of this number through an in-person meeting with the local authorities.

2) Have the software "phone home" that it's actually being used, when it's used.

Yes! Every day Linux Genuine Advantage [] helps customers all over the world who are victims of software piracy get genuine. If you got your Linux for free, you should upgrade today to get the following exciting new features:
  • Closed source, for extra Security Through Obscurity(tm),
  • Compatibility with the latest viruses and malware,
  • Innovative new Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to help you manage your digital rights,
  • DirectX 10.
Anyway, you don't want an OS that was written by hackers, do you?

Re:Firefox (1)

griffjon (14945) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801747)

Seriously, though, the article seemed to focus on all the possible ways Linux might be being undercounted - proxies/NATs, installation of multiple systems from one downloaded CD, bittorrent distribution, spoofed HTTP headers, being counted under "unknown"

I call bullshit. Most of these also apply to Windows, the main advantage in counting windows being "Genuine Advantage" Still, my workplace has a MS site license and is NATted; are we fully and accurately counted? What about global piracy rates of Windows lowering their official numbers?

The real problem here is that there's both a lack of precision and accuracy [] . Accuracy is getting the actual right number - sure, the article reminds us all of the reasons we'll never get this (nor will Microsoft, though Apple might have better luck now that they're back to being the only HW manufacturer). What we need to focus on is precision - deciding on a cross-platform close to valid measure, and apply that blindly. Will it be accurate? Probably not, but what we need is precise and fair.

Not possible (2, Interesting)

jshriverWVU (810740) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800889)

As long as you can get linux from compile and make your own distro, download from a myriad of distros, multiple installs both in hardware and in vm's, and people single people using multiple versions it's really not possible to get a valid number on how many computers are actually running linux.

Plus are you talking about just Server/desktop? If you count the millions of embedded devices that run gnu/linux I'm sure it would be considered the worlds most popular OS. It's all in how you want to swing the numbers.

Re:Not possible (1)

shird (566377) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801007)

Well you could take a look at the number of downloads of the most popular distros (eg ubuntu) from their primary download sites, and thn extrapolate from there. Its true that only a fraction of people running Linux will download that particular distro from that particular source; but as long as that fraction is relatively constant, you can still measure growth.

eg, you can extrapolate that Linux adoption has doubled if ubuntu downloads have doubled, even if you don't have the full figures.

Re:Not possible (1)

indiejade (850391) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801161)

Here is part of the problem, as mentioned in the article:

For example, data gathered by Web sites neglects to identify computers that are operated behind proxies, or even Squid ... In fact, that certain Web sites were designed to reject access from every Web browser other than Internet Explorer. As a result, many Linux users are forced to pretend (by altering HTTP headers) that they use a typical Windows setup. This is known as spoofing or forging and it is a matter of convenience.
Darn those proxy servers being all. . . convenient and whatnot.

Re:Not possible (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801279)

No, it's not a "convenience". It's a workaround for knucklehead site designers.

Re:Not possible (1)

donaldm (919619) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801833)

I used to spoof my browser but don't do it anymore. If I end up at a site that requires Microsoft IE I don't care I go elsewhere, however I know that just by doing this I have left information to say that that a non IE browser has tried to connect and they have just lost a potential customer. If enough people did this then maybe the site's management and web designers would get the message. IMHO if you feel that a site is not supporting your browser then don't use that site. If that site is a banking institution then change banks, after all this attitude from your bank shows how much they value you as a customer. You may actually save money, still it is your call.

Where I work it is mandatory that all internal web designs support both IE and Firefox. When this started we use to see Firefox break often but after a while and some complaining we are now seeing IE break as our web designers stick to web standards with minor tweaking for Firefox but a major pain for IE.

We even have a work policy allowing the user to have Linux on the desktop providing they can do their work. Some have taken this up but unfortunately this will take time since management has not come up with recommended distributions. What slows down adoption is the fact that there is a considerable amount of Microsoft centric software that make a compleat switch difficult. A dual boot is possible but from my experience it is far to easy to backslide back to MS Windows. For my home laptop I only have Fedora 7 on it so I cannot revert back to MS Windows and it does everything I want except for playing the latest Games for MS Windows. Still that is what I have a PS3 and Gamecube for since I have never been that interested in PC games.

Well, duh. (4, Interesting)

evanbd (210358) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800921)

It might not be entirely pointless to try, but I'm reasonably convinced of two things: I don't care (and don't need to) about the exact numbers, and it's growing.

I don't care largely because the software meets *my* needs. That's the most important thing to me. An assurance that it will continue to do so is also nice, and there are clearly a lot of people developing for it. I'm not worried on that front. People who have a big investment in *other people* using Linux (especially when said other people aren't developers) confuse me. (Well, except when they're trying to sell Linux software / services.)

It's growing. I can't tell you how much, but I can offer the anecdotal evidence that the responses I get to "I run Linux" have changed over the past few years. It's not always "What's that?" anymore. It's not uncommon to get questions about it in response -- people want to know how well it works, whether it runs the same software as Windows, etc. I just answer their questions and am polite and friendly about it.

Re:Well, duh. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801127)

I just answer their questions and am polite and friendly about it.

What kind of evangelism is that? You should browbeat them into submission and threaten them with eternal damnation in the pits of Redmond if they don't convert!

Re:Well, duh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801219)

I always wondered: how are people that use FreeBSD, Solaris and other desktop *NIXes counted? Are they grouped into Linux (I feel like they should be) or into Other/Don't know group?

For what it's worth, a recent study on a CA campus based on self-reporting during the network MAC registration gave the following results: 80% Windows, 10% Apple/Mac, 4% linux, rest Don't know/Other.

I have an idea (2, Funny)

duncanmhor (746319) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800955)

Perhaps some kind of central server to keep track of who's using Linux? It could be called Linux Legitimate Benefit...

Re:I have an idea (2, Funny)

blindd0t (855876) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801221)

No no, you wouldn't want Linux to violate yet another Microsoft patent! (being facetious, of course)

number 6 (1)

Artie_Effim (700781) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800973)

I am not a number, I am a free(as in speach) man,

Re:number 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801097)

I think it's just precious that you guys spout this baloney so continually, and appear to genuinely believe your own words. Come to think of it, it's not really precious -- it's actually kind of sad.

Re:number 6 (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801709)

Sure, whatever, 700781. Get back in the line.

couldn't you just (4, Interesting)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800985)

Take a sample of 10000 people / companies.
Ask them if they use Linux of not
Extrapolate the results.

Seems to work when there counting all kinds of other things that don't have a direct method of counting them.

Re:couldn't you just (1)

obergfellja (947995) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801171)

yeah u could. but how true are these numbers? would the demographic be true for all areas?

Re:couldn't you just (2, Interesting)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801187)

I want to know if it's even possible to do a good, statistically-valid survey anymore.

How would you do it? Call people up? Sorry, that excludes all the people who use only VoIP or cell phones, because you can't call them. So, you know that your survey is already limited to mouth-breathers who still use POTS and talk to survey people.

Am I going out on a limb to say that that class of people has markedly different charasteristics than those outside of it, especially on Linux?

Re:couldn't you just (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801379)

When waiting in line at a movie theater, ask people.

When in line at the supermarket, ask people.

When waiting to pick up your kids at daycare, strike up a conversation about computers with the other parents, and find out what they use. Or ask other parents at the next PTA meeting.

Ask others at your church or coven.

At the next meeting of your model rocketry club or RC airplane club, find out what people are using.

Next time you are at BestBuy buying blank CDs, or a thumb drive, or anything else in the computer section, say "I wonder if this works with Linux?" when several other customers can overhear you, and see if you get anyone offering advice.

Take a peek at the laptops when you walk through a coffee shop with an active wifi hotspot user population.

Almost everyone, almost everyday, encounters plenty of other computer users in contexts that won't be biased toward a particular operating system, providing an opportunity for a little informal polling.

Re:couldn't you just (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801193)

Yes, you could do that. But it would give you results consistent with all the other counting methods, and so it must be flawed too. :-)

The gist of the article seems to be that no counting method is perfect and therefore gives you no useful information. In fact, an imperfect counting method can still give some information, and the information from independent methods can be combined. This is done all the time in science, for instance. Does the original author think that marine biologists get counts of fish populations by counting every single fish in the ocean?

Re:couldn't you just (1)

Vancorps (746090) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801295)

How many people know they're using Linux on their phones? Do they know Linux runs a lot of DVRs? Do those numbers even count? The problem with counting Linux users is everyone is technically a Linux user. Do we then just count Linux desktop users? Is that number significant in any way?

Just a few honest questions here. You won't find much in the way of linux desktop OS users although their numbers are indeed growing. At what rate I have no idea as I believe that is hard to measure given.

Re:couldn't you just (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801325)

Actually, the long term evidence on sampling is pretty bad. Sampling gets stuff pretty wrong, usually due to difficult to foresee flaws in the sampling methodology.

PS SYstems (1)

obergfellja (947995) | more than 7 years ago | (#19800991)

You could count the Playstation 2 and Playstation 3 systems sold so far.

Re:PS SYstems (1)

friedman101 (618627) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801185)

Or Tivos

It's going to be tough. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801009)

Are you a Linux "user" when:

1) Your personal desktop is pure Linux?
2) Your desktop is a dual boot Win32/Linux machine where you use Windows 95% of the time?
3) You never use Linux at home, but do at work?
4) You never use Linux except for forensic work?
5) No personal computers are Linux based, but you use the Linux Router Project instead of a consumer product?
6) You occasionally put out a Knoppix disk for yucks?
7) No computer or router uses Linux, but you are running Yellow Dog on your PS3?

It's not all that easily quantifiable.

Re:It's going to be tough. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801373)

1) yes
2) yes
3) yes
4) yes
5) yes
6) no
7) yes

seemed easy to me

Ah, an Onion-esk headline (4, Interesting)

starseeker (141897) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801035)

That's a good way to start a Monday :-).

Actually, it's not so much that they are pointless - just that they are useless. There is a point to knowing how many Linux boxes are out there (demographic studies, confidence in support longevity as a function of install base, etc.) But most known techniques for counting remain useless.

To be honest, this might be just as well. Any technology that COULD count successfully all the Linux boxes out there would be a bit scary - many people probably don't WANT anyone to be able to know what they are running. (OK so nmap can probably figure out anyway...)

Large scale counts like this are a difficult proposition - the only things that approaches being successful in this respect are probably automobile registration systems, census systems, and the tax system - in other words, massive systems with compulsary reporting for every existing component member.

Now, of more interest might be to work with the BSA for a while (or someone else who has the authority to open random IT doors at random) and do an anonymous study of deployment percentages at random under guise of a random license check or soemthing. Probably (hopefully!) not legal but it would be a way to get statistically meaningful results if the sample was chosen well.

Re:Ah, an Onion-esk headline (1)

kebes (861706) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801313)

Any technology that COULD count successfully all the Linux boxes out there would be a bit scary - many people probably don't WANT anyone to be able to know what they are running.
Well there is a very old and very well-tested "technology" that could determine the number of Linux users, and all without invading privacy, or installing software on people's computers. It's called: "statistical surveys."

Yes, surveys are imperfect. They have error bars. However if the sample size is big enough, they give a reasonably correct result. Moreover the error bars can be estimated based on sample size and analyzing the stats. You don't have to count every single Linux box to get a statistically significant result. So, really, it would be quite easy to get a reasonable estimate of the number of Linux users: do various rigorous surveys (by "rigorous" I mean truly randomized studies, conducted by trusted sources, not a voluntary web-poll), and check the results.

Obtaining this information is not impossible. It would, however, cost some money, and to date no one has felt it worth the effort to spend the money to find out. But it would certainly be possible to do.

(P.S.: Does anyone have a rough idea how much it would cost to fund such a survey? Some of us are keen to be able to go to hardware vendors and say "if you do not support this OS you are ignoring X % of the computer market", using accurate stats. How much donated money would be required to fund such a survey? Perhaps some university could be coaxed into carrying out a national survey?)

Re:Ah, an Onion-esk headline (1)

topherhenk (998915) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801675)

I would think the problem is getting the error bars small enough to show those who use Linux. Looking at the comments posted already we are talking around 1-3% (optimistically). Most surveys I have seen have error bars that large. Thus permitting those vendors to discount the survey.

Re:Ah, an Onion-esk headline (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801743)

The dutch tax administration is actually counting these figures. In The Netherlands, the tax office releases each year an application which helps filling in your tax deductions. Most households in the netherlands who own a computer use it. Now, for the last few years they've released it their tax-app for Windows, Mac and Linux, and each year they publish how many times the tax-app is downloaded per platform; here's the link for last year's figures:

In dutch: toon_nieuwsbericht.jsp?di=335745 []

English translation (Yahoo babelfish): &tt=url&intl=1&fr=bf-home&trurl=http%3A%2F%2Fautom _nieuwsbericht.jsp%3Fdi%3D335745&lp=nl_en&btnTrUrl =Translate []

Seems to me (1)

Joe Snipe (224958) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801055)

a server side log of unique ip's that Download [ some standard file ] from the major repositories/minor mirrors, with a forward to a central DB (IP's stripped, of course) would be a relatively simple solution.

Do Linux Embedded Devices Count? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801067)

How about the number of Linux Embedded Devices since we are counting. It would seem most people dont even know they are using linux a this level.

We can figure this out (3, Funny)

friedman101 (618627) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801081)

Tally every PC sold where the customer asks "The wireless card on this notebook doesn't have a broadcom chipset, right?" or "Do you have this model with an NVidia card? ATI is dead to me"

Counting (1)

NeoTerra (986979) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801093)

One question is are they strictly talking about desktop linux, or do they also count in servers? Would they count the people who use/access these servers, or just the company/person who maintains it? I would imagine seeing something along the lines of number of machines it's installed on, but it has flaws as well. I have a desktop and laptop for personal use, as well as a desktop and laptop for work, plus an extra desktop for testing software. I could count as 1 user or 5 licenses. Now at a Public Library, you could have a few machines that get used by a host of people each day. That would yield more users than licenses.

I know I'm preaching to the choir, but linux users could be confined to a small group, or expanded to anyone who visits a website running on linux.

And then you'll have each side of the debate disputing and spinning numbers to be in their favor...A messy deal that will be. Well, if it ever happens.

my non representative sample (1)

flar2 (938689) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801129)

Given the diversity of computer uses and computer users, there's no good way to measure this. For what it's worth, the sample from my web server represents 91.3% Windows, 7.4% Mac, 0.9% Linux, and 0.2% unknown. That sample is of course not representative of all computer users.

the Ballmer index (2, Funny)

cli_rules! (915096) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801181)

20,000 Linux users per thrown chair (potty mouth == 5,000/word)

Most effective method... (1)

gerbalblaste (882682) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801227)

Wouldn't the most effective method be to get google and yahoo usage statistics? (oh noes!!! statistics are inaccurate)

Google Trends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801251)

I don't know what it means but, Google trends shows that the number of searches for "linux" has declined over the last years. []

Catch - Recatch (1)

vaceituno (665272) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801269)

The easiest and more accurate tecnique would be to use the catch-recatch tecnique from biology.

Re:Catch - Recatch (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801451)

Most users object to the eartags.

Re:Catch - Recatch (1)

vaceituno (665272) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801665)

Ooops! I suppose writing their names down could be an acceptable alternative...

Equally pointless to count Windows users (1)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801415)

No real way to count them, either.

For instance, I have two Windows 98 boxes in my basement I got from an auction. Am I a Windows user? Do I count twice? Or not at all since they'll never be powered up (got them for cheap long ago, never used them, will probably donate them to Goodwill).

And how about all those pirate boxes in Asia? Do they count or not?

If I had to guess, I'd say that WGA was (at least partially) an attempt to count windows users. And we all know how that worked out.

Re:Equally pointless to count Windows users (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801773)

It's a good thing you didn't have to guess, because your attempt was so hideously wrong that I think it gave me cancer.

Linux Advocates? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19801445)

One thing that I have noticed over the years is that all of the supposed Linux Advocates (including user groups) really want Linux to succeed but really aren't that willing to show others how to use it. I wouldn't expect anyone to show me how to do everything but it just seems if you ask a question about something challenging you won't get a good usable straight answer. Rather you get something much more obscure or if you asked the question online you might not get an answer at all unless you have described what you have already tried in great detail and in the right form. It is some sort of unspoken rule or something. I realize that they may be trying to hold on to a few secrets here and there that make them more valuable to their employer or as a consultant but come on! Don't complain about Microsoft unless you are helping to spread the good word about Linux yourself and help a few people out.

Count Yum/Apt repo hits? (1)

evilandi (2800) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801449)

Why not just count yum/apt repository/mirror hits by unique IP?

Okay so that underestimates those in big organisations who run their own mirror, and those running old distros that don't check for updates, but it would be a damn sight more accurate than most of the other methods.

The big distros (Red Hat, Ubuntu etc) could even sponsor an independent body to oversee the fair collection of the data from the repos and mirrors.

Re:Count Yum/Apt repo hits? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801825)

Except for NATs, Proxies, and LUGs that hand out copies of distributions that they downloaded once.

You fail at the Internet.

What I'd like to know is (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801465)

I'd be curious to see how many Java developers use desktop Linux. After all, they're not tied to any particular platform. I've got this growing suspicion that people who don't have to use the latest Windows (XP or Vista) are either using Win2K or Linux.

Weather reporting? (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801507)

Be sure to count all those people who make use of television and web weather reports. If they use data from NOAA, USGS, or services like the streamflow/stormwater data from NWIS, or if they use data modeling service from SDSC or NCSA, they are linux users...

For the Bogglers (2, Insightful)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801525)

For those boggling over WHY this matters, try and keep in mind that Microsoft, Apple, et al provide these figures regularly. Whether or not they're valid is a source of debate, but some kind of numbers are out there. This is how we get to say things like 'Windows is 90% of the market', etc.

Perhaps we need a 'BeCounted' daemon that merely tracks the stats of those that would like to be counted? It would still be a fraction, but if that number were out there we'd at least have some kind of data point to discuss. Perhaps FSF or GNU or some other party would host the servers that collect the data? You could even make the thing multi-platform, reporting on specific apps, and providing other useful data and pitch it to Google and company. Not that they're not already tracking this in their own apps, but this would be OSS. You could have all sorts of opt-in/opt-out toggles for it and it would be transparent as to what it tracked. You could also have it gather from different places and homogenize the data after it was submitted. The possibilities abound.

Maybe there already is such a creature? If we supporters of Free-with-a-capital-F want to be relevant moving forward, a detailed head-count could certainly be a step in the right direction.

Nobody has a clue how many people are using Linux (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801545)

...Netcraft confirms it!

How about World Linux Counter (1)

raluxs (961449) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801549)

Yes, go on and sign up, lets rise those stats! []
Registered Linux User #185812

NEVER Count Linux Users (1)

mpapet (761907) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801685)

Crazy? Maybe. But here are the reasons.

1. Big companies will crush most of the smaller distros. If anyone is old enough to remember before the ipod was launched, they would tell you there were many more mp3-audio devices. Some of them were interesting. The entry of Apple crushed most of them for a product that wasn't substantially better and more expensive.

2. Big companies use research to justify market entry. They will create a Linux distro mono-culture. Not only will they create a mono-culture, they will do so with an inferior product that consumers pay more for. (That's how they pay for advertising and stuff sales channels with products)

I like seeing as wide a variety of distros as possible. To keep it that way, never, ever give corporate conglomerates the tools they need to screw it up. In this case, reliable data on the number of Linux users.

I don't *have* it but I *use* it. (1)

kahei (466208) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801725)

I have 2 windows machines and no Linux machine. But I *use* Linux; my web sites are hosted on linux because the virtualization is better and it's cheaper. My svn server is linux and so is the server that runs wikis, PM systems and the other things I need to have. Why, I couldn't get by without linux! Yet I don't actually have a linux machine and I thus don't add to the ranks of linux users, whereas I *do* add to the ranks of Windows users.

I guess what I'm saying is, it's very hard to evaluate the importance of an OS by a headcount.

Pointless in deed (1)

jfekendall (1121479) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801727)

It's a total waste of time to try to collect, mine and extrapolate demographic stats like this period. While the numbers may be objective, the way that they are interpreted and announced to the public may be subjectively skewed. Who would really want to know how far linux has proliferated? One guy that I know of... and his name rhymes with Bill Gates.

How do I count running Linux Code in BSD? (1)

deweycheetham (1124655) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801729)

How do I count running Linux Binaries on the BSD's? Is this 1, or do i get a 1/2 for each. I also run several version of Linux in VMware. Do I get partial credit for them too, since I usually keep 8 or 9 different Linux partitions laying around?

Yes, he is right (1)

mgblst (80109) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801733)

Also, programming is useless, because nobody can write a bug free program.

And weather predication is useless, because we can never be 100% sure of the results.

And Economics is useless, because there are so many parameters to measure constantly, and they are always changing that we can't actually be sure of anything at anytime.


I suggest we do it like the MPAA and RIAA (2, Funny)

wild_berry (448019) | more than 7 years ago | (#19801793)

Take a leaf from the MPAA and RIAA and extrapolate the losses from Microsoft's profits.
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