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Results from the 2004 Desktop Linux Market survey
(Updated May 6, 2005) had questions, and 3,841 readers chimed in with their answers. We've gathered the data on distributions, window managers, email clients, web browsers, and more in the 2004 Desktop Linux Market survey -- and some of the results are surprising!

Please note that while we make every effort to increase result validity by limiting responses to a single submission per IP address, respondents are self-selected, and we have minimal control over multiple or dishonest voting. Additionally, our market share results are not meant to reflect upon the commercial success of individual companies. For other perspectives, as well as commercial marketshare figures, recommends market analysts such as IDC and Gartner, among other capable sources.

Now, we invite our readers to review our observations, analysis, and prognostications, and weigh in with your own analysis of the data using the talkback thread provided. Enjoy . . . !

Linux Distributions -- a more egalitarian oligarchy

In a poll concluded back in January 2003, 10,313 readers weighed in with their choices for Linux distributions. At that time, Debian led the pack, with 24 percent of respondants saying they used or planned to use the distribution, closely followed by Mandrake, at 21 percent. Red Hat and SuSE earned small but respectable percentages of 12 and 10 percent respectively, followed by Lindows with 9 percent.

The landscape hadn't changed much by February 2004, when a later set of 4,151 responses were tallied. Debian was still the gold medal distro, with a ten percent growth to 34 percent of all respondants, while Mandrake had shrunk to 19 percent -- though still clearly in second place. The previous survey's third and fourth places swapped spots, with SuSE (13 percent) pulling ahead of Red Hat (9 percent) and surpassing Red Hat's prior year's 12 percent rating. Back then, new-comer Yoper barely registered a blip on the radar screen, with a mere 0.1 percent showing.

Which brings us to the present . . .

We initially published a chart from our 2004 Desktop Linux Market survey data that showed a surprise first-place showing by Yoper -- a relatively recent arrival on the Desktop Linux scene. The chart was based on a simple rendering of our raw survey data. However, our readers were quick to report a fishy smell, and a trip over to Yoper's homepage today turned up evidence of a well-intended but survey-busting tendency to encourage Yoper users to boost Yoper's standing in online polls.

To get a better idea of the Desktop Linux distribution landscape, we have created the following revised chart that omits the Yoper data:

Desktop Linux distribution preferences
(Click to enlarge)

As seen in the above graph, Mandrake and SuSE are now essentially tied for first place -- at 17.6 and 17.5 percent respectively. Red Hat comes next, at sightly over 15 percent, and last year's winner, Debian, has slipped into fourth place, garnering half a percent fewer votes than Red Hat.

Whither Debian?

Despite its apparent fall from first-place grace, there's a silver lining to the Debian cloud, considering that it has increasingly become the basis of a host of other popular distributions including KNOPPIX, Libranet, Linspire, MEPIS, Ubuntu, and Xandros, to mention a few. In fact, if we were to combine all the Debian-derived distro's in our survey into a single entry, the Debian-based group would end up right back at the top of the pack. (Specifically, the group would receive 14.8 + 4.6 + 3.2 + 1.5 = 24.1 percent.)

We'll all be interested to see how these and other popular Desktop Linux distributions fare this year. We're expecting great things from MEPIS, Ubuntu, ... and you too, Yoper!

Windowing Environments -- KDE still can't be beat

There was no such upset or confusion in the realm of windowing environments. KDE -- last year's leader -- has increased its dominance, growing from 44 percent to 61 percent of respondants. GNOME took silver honors both years with 27 percent last year and 21 percent this year. Interestingly, KDE's increase came at the expense of all other window managers except XFCE, which posted a small gain.

Windowing environments
(Click to enlarge)

Email Clients -- New-comer Thunderbird rockets to the top tier

In last year's primary email client poll results, KMail bested Evolution by less than one percent in a photo finish. Mozilla Messenger, Mutt, and Sylpheed took the lion's share of the remaining 48% with 16, 11, and 9 percent, respectively.

Preferred email clients
(Click to enlarge)

In the 2004 Desktop Linux Market Survey, Kmail moved into the top spot with a half percent lead over Evolution's 23 percent. Newcomer Thunderbird, even without an officially released version 1.0 until December 2004, was hot on their trail with 23 percent. Mozilla Messenger managed to keep on an even keel, with 14 percent, while Mutt and Sylpheed scuttled in Thunderbird's wake with less than 5 percent each.

Web Browsers -- debuts another champ

In last year's survey, Mozilla dominated the ring, with 46 percent of 5,742 choosing it as their primary Linux browser. Galeon and Konqueror split another 34 percent almost equally, and Opera claimed 13% for itself.

Top-picked web browsers
(Click to enlarge)

This year, Mozilla slid to 30 percent, coming in second behind the new crowd favorite: kid sister Mozilla Firefox. Though not officially debuting version 1.0 until November 2004, Firefox was chosen by 39 percent of 3,841 readers as their primary web browser, making products top pick for almost 70 percent of survey participants.

The W-word -- running Windows apps under Linux

Last year's poll results revealed that about 60 percent of the 3,946 readers polled had both currently used Windows applications under Linux and expected to do so in the future.

Running Windows apps under Linux
(Click to enlarge)

The numbers haven't changed at all in the year since, nor have the solutions. Both this year and last year, Wine surfaced as the top choice of 34 percent of respondants. About 16 percent expressed a preference for Crossover, and VMWare exhibited a stable base of 14 percent both years. And in case you're wondering, 28 percent of respondents selected "None -- I don't run Windows apps under Linux."

Concluding Observations

Web surveys being what they are, it's wise to take this data with a grain of salt and not make too many concrete conclusions or predictions. However, we'll hazard a few general observations about the Desktop Linux market (or, at the very least, readers):
  • First, readers are early adopters, and will quickly ditch previous favorites for new offers such as Thunderbird and Firefox. Being at the top one year is no guarantee of being at the top in the next.

  • Second, with the still-popular Mozilla web browser, the newer Firefox, and the fast-flying Thunderbird, is clearly a force to contend with, as is the increasingly popular KDE.

  • Third, and verging on dangerous over-generalization, open source software is a fast-moving and competitive market. Sharing code really can stimulate business growth.
All in all, it's been an interesting year, and the coming year promises to be at least as exciting. Will Opera 8 overtake How will new distribution offerings like Ubuntu and the re-branded Mandriva and Linspire fare? wants to know, so be sure to keep an eye out for the 2005 Desktop Linux Market Survey, coming soon!

Updates to this story

  • 5/6/05 at 1:00pm PDT -- revised distribution chart and analysis
  • 5/6/05 at 10:00am PDT -- corrected the "n" values for the 2004 survey data; added information regarding choice of "none" for method of running Windows apps on top of Linux.
  • 5/5/05 -- corrected inadvertent reversal of Kmail's and Evolution's 2004 results.

Talk back!

Agree? Disagree? See something we overlooked? encourages you to review the results for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Let us know what you think in our talkback thread:

Join the discussion

Results from past surveys

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