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Results from the 2006 Desktop Linux Survey
by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (Aug. 29, 2006)

The results of's 2006 Desktop Linux Market survey are in, and the votes are all tallied. This first article of a series offers a perspective on how the various desktop Linux distributions fared, and why.

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Before jumping into what the survey of almost 15,000 Linux users revealed, though, I should point out a few things.

First, this is in no way, shape, or form a scientific survey. Anyone who wanted to vote could vote. We did make sure that we didn't have a Chicago-style election with multiple votes from one person -- or IP address, anyway -- but that was about it.

We also didn't include some mildly popular choices -- Arch Linux, GNOME's Epiphany Web browser, and the Fluxbox window manager -- in the initial version of survey. Our readers spoke early on, and we added them.

Still, when all is said and done, we do think that our survey does say some interesting things about the current state of desktop Linux. So, without further ado, here's what we found.

The most popular desktop of Linux today is... well, most of you can already guess without seeing the scores: Ubuntu.

Ubuntu, with 29.2 percent of the vote, has been the hottest community Linux since early 2005. While this Linux has had its problems lately, such as the update fiasco on August 21st and 22nd, users continue to download, install, and love it.

And, why not? It's an excellent distribution. It's not just users who think this; reviewers have also labeled it the Desktop Linux Champ.

A little closer peek at the data, and some comparison with the Distrowatch page hit list, reveals that "classic" Ubuntu with the GNOME interface is the real winner. Kubuntu, with its KDE desktop, and the educational Edubuntu distributions have their fans, but Ubuntu is what a plurality of Linux desktop users appear to be running today.

In a distant second place, with 12.2 percent, we find Ubuntu's ancestor, Debian. Close behind it, there's openSUSE with 10.1 percent of the users. If you included in openSUSE's totals its corporate big brother, Novell's SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) numbers, 2.9 percent, the SUSE-twins would be in second place with 13 percent.

After this, we come to what I think of as the first surprise in our survey. Gentoo took fourth place with a total of 9.6 percent. Gentoo, to me, is a Linux expert's Linux. I know many serious Linux users who work with Gentoo to better understand Linux, but almost no one who uses it as their first choice for day-to-day work.

In fifth place, we find Fedora, Red Hat's community distribution. Fedora, while still somewhat popular with 7 percent of the vote, seems to have lost some of its charm to users in the last year.

Mandriva, which used to be quite popular, is also no longer as attractive as it once was. Even though we included all its immediate ancestors -- Mandrake, Lycoris, and Connectiva -- in our count, it still only came in sixth with 4.8 percent of the vote.

Then, there were the others. These are the distributions that did, well, horribly in our survey. GoblinX, a Slackware-based distribution; Pie Box, a Red Hat clone; and Tomahawk, a Linux from Singapore -- none of these was able to muster enough votes to even creep up to 0.1 percent of use by our survey partipants.

GoblinX's poor showing surprised me. It's well-regarded, attractive, lightweight, and has a small, but active, development community. I really don't understand why it received so little support. No, it's certainly not a big name, but still, I'd expected to see it get some support.

Thinking of big names, Red Hat came in with a mere 2.2 percent of the vote. That's still better than Linspire (1 percent) and Xandros (0.8 percent) did, though.

What's happening here?

Well, if you take a look at which distributions did well, you'll see they have one thing in common: they're all community-based distributions. I think what we're seeing with our survey is that the people who've invested something of themselves in their Linux desktop are the ones voting. The people who simply use the Linux that's set in front of them, or just buy it, have less invested in it and so are less likely to vote.

I have no doubt, based on all the Linux desktops I've seen in use at tradeshows, homes, and offices, that while Ubuntu is number one, SLED and openSUSE are clearly the real number two in the number of users, with Linspire in third place.

I'd be willing to lay down a small bet that as Linspire's recent community Freespire release gathers more supporters, and based on what I've seen of the distro, it will be near the top in our next survey.

I also suspect that one reason why Fedora did so comparatively poorly is that Red Hat recently made it clear that the company, and not the community, is calling Fedora's shots. If the users and developers don't feel like they have a real say in what's going on with a distribution, they're not as likely to stick around.

Still, I'm sure that Red Hat, in the form of the older Red Hat 9 or RHEL WS (Red Hat Enterprise Linux Workstation) or Red Hat Desktop, is working on many business desktops. As for Xandros, I've seen it in too many places to think that it doesn't have a small, but significant, number of users.

However, without that community boost, I don't see either one doing well in our open survey. For a realistic look at how many people are using them, we'll need to wait for the IDGs and Gartners of the world to do a CIO/CTO survey of business Linux desktop use. Come that day, I suspect we'll find RHEL WS and SLED neck and neck.

For now, though, what I can say with perfect assurance is that Ubuntu is the number one desktop Linux distro, and that the community Linuxes are far more popular with our readers than their commercial brothers.

In my next look at our survey results, I'll talk about what desktop interfaces and applications are favored by our Linux desktop readers. There won't be any surprises at who's on top, but I think you will be surprised by the ones that are closest to catching up with the big names.

-- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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Raw Survey Data

The survey results are available here in graphical format, with percentages. For the convenience of those wishing to analyze the data numerically, the raw data is also available in the form of an excel-compatible spreadsheet (generated using gnumeric), here.

Note: Please be sure to credit (including a live link, where possible) with any use or reference to our data. Thank you!

Results from Previous Surveys

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