We will now talk about the popularity of Linux. Since most Linux distros are non-commercial, it is a bit more difficult to get usage statistics. The ones we do have come largely from web analysis, which means that you log what number of Windows, macOS and Linux machines access a website.
The first part of this chapter is at our page “Desktop Operating Systems Overview“.
Let us now get to the numbers.
As we said in our previous post, Linux is less popular than Windows and macOS. Today, Linux runs on around 2-3% of desktops, with a fraction of that being Google’s Chrome OS (Source 1, Source 2). The main reason why Linux is not as prevalent is that most desktop PCs ship with Windows. macOS is only available on Apple computers, but also pre-installed. Linux on the other hand, has to be installed by its users. Most people do not do this, even though it is easy and free. Some are afraid of breaking their PC and others are not tech-savvy enough to even think about changing their operating system.
When talking about Linux on desktop, you should take into account that there is no OS called Linux, but a variety of distributions. Those use the same Linux kernel, but different GUIs, software packages and features.
Today, the most popular desktop distros are Ubuntu with 39%, Arch (including Manjaro) with 27%, Debian with 15% and the Ubuntu derivative Linux Mint with 15% as well (survey on Linux desktop users). Google’s Chrome OS is also quite popular, due to the success of affordable Chromebooks, but it is not really Linux anymore. Chrome OS utilises Gentoo Linux source code, but has lot of proprietary programs, limitations and Google heavily changed it, which moved it away from other distros. Just like with their development of Android, Google does not have much interest in contributing to the Linux kernel.
Unfortunately, taking advantage of all the features the many distros provide requires an installation in most cases. Ubuntu Linux is the only one that is shipped pre-installed on some high-end PCs and notebooks from major manufacturers like Dell or System76. You can request IT firms to install any Linux for you, but such offers are usually only for bulk sales to companies.
While Linux did not have its breakthrough on desktop PCs yet, that cannot be said for robotics, embedded devices, firmware or servers. On servers, Linux is very dominant and runs on around 67% of them. The by far most used server distributions are Debian and Ubuntu Server. Debian used to be the number one, but Ubuntu was able to increase its market share significantly.
Currently, 37.8%% of all web servers run Ubuntu, Debian-Linux is used by 21.8%, CentOS by 17.2% and RHEL by 2.1%. Fedora, SuSE and others are less popular (source 1, source 2). Companies especially rely on distros with paid support like RHEL and Ubuntu Server. Those offer support subscriptions and long-term support releases that companies only have install once to get updates and security patches for years.
The mentioned statistics apply to web servers in general, but Linux is especially widespread on big websites and supercomputers. Linux is the main OS of the 1,000,000 biggest serverswith a share of 96.5%. Out of the TOP500 supercomputers, every single one uses Linux. The last TOP500 supercomputer to run a Windows server installation was shut down in 2015. There are good reasons for the popularity of Linux on servers.
Read more in the third part “Desktop Operating Systems 3 - Privacy Features of Desktop OSs“