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How many Linux desktop users are there?
Aug. 17, 2007

Desktop operating systems numbers, even when gathered by top research companies, such as IDG and Gartner, are often a bit fuzzy. When it comes to uncommon desktop operating systems, like Linux, the numbers often amount to little more than an educated guess. Now, a new open-source program, statix, promises to give accurate data on how many Linux desktops are actually in use.

Cole Crawford, a Dell Linux IT strategist, created statix to anonymously track the number of Linux desktops worldwide via an opt in Python script. Crawford is a long-time Linux user and has been involved in the Linux community since the launch of Slackware 1.0 in 1993.

Statix uses a Python client and a hosted Python CGI (Common Gateway Interface) back end to track the country in which each desktop is running. Eventually it will also be able to track the kernel and distribution of statix-using Linux desktops. The project is currently seeking a MySQL database administrator and a user interface UI developer.

While Crawford is a Dell employee, this is a purely open-source project. In a brief conversation at LinuxWorld in early August in San Francisco, Crawford said, "This is my attempt to give something back to the Linux community, which has helped me so much over the years."

This project has Linux Foundation's support. As John Cherry, the Foundation's global initiative manager, explained, "We have been playing with market data for years now, and with freely distributable software, it is very difficult to glean this market data."

Linux desktop surveys such as DesktopLinux's own annual survey tend to be biased towards Linuxes with large, active communities, which encourage their supporters to vote. Other popularly quoted numbers, such as those from DistroWatch Page Hit Ranking, tend to reflect the interests of community-supported Linuxes and quickly evolving Linux distributions. So, for example, Mint, which has released several different editions in the last eight months, gets far more attention than the comparatively slow changing Red Hat distributions.

To make statix more accurate than these sites, or the results from the interviews of CIOs and CTOs that the research companies use, Cherry wants all the Linux distributions to adopt statix and help with its development. "The trick," according to Cherry, "will be to get this deployed in all of the open and commercial Linux distributions. If it doesn't get fully deployed, we will have yet another skewed source of desktop Linux market data."

So it is that Cherry asks that, "If desktop Linux market data is important to you or your company, please become involved in the statix project and in the deployment of this tool on every distro. I realize that market data can be a double-edged sword, so distro vendors should get those issues on the table early."

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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