Ubuntu: Still Popular?

Published on by Jim Mendenhall

Back in November of 2007, we wrote an article about the popularity of Ubuntu. At the time, it appeared that Ubuntu was the most popular Linux distribution according to many different web metrics. Of course, there’s no way to say for sure which distro is the most popular and to know exactly how many people use Ubuntu. That being said, we thought it would be interesting to take a fresh look at Ubuntu’s popularity. Is Ubuntu gaining in popularity? Is it being used by more people? Are more people searching and talking about Ubuntu?

So, how many users does Ubuntu have? It’s really hard to tell. In October, 2007, Canonical claimed that there were over 6 million users of Ubuntu. Then in October, 2008, in an interview with IneternetNews.com a Canonical spokesman claimed that

“In terms of numbers we’re very confident this is an 8 million plus user base of active users. That is a hard thing to count and there are lots of issues about methodology for counting but I have seen nothing that sheds doubts on that.”
With this in mind, lets look at some indicators and statistics from around the web to see just how popular Ubuntu really is. Has it gained in popularity since 2007, or has another distro come in to take Ubuntu’s place?

Note: this article is in no way a scientific study of Ubuntu’s popularity, it is just a collection of interesting stats from around the net. Have fun with it!

1. DistroWatch.com

Like last time around, we’ll start things out with distrowatch.com. While not the best indicator of a distro’s popularity, it is a traditionally accepted measure of popularity in the Linux community. When we wrote our original article back in November of 2007, PCLinuxOS topped the distrowatch list, but that apparently didn’t last for long, as Ubuntu is once again back on top (and overall yearly stats at distrowatch.com show Ubuntu in the number one position from 2005-present).

DistroWatch.com’s most popular linux distributions for the past 6 months

  1. Ubuntu
  2. Fedora
  3. openSUSE
  4. Mint
  5. Debian
  6. Mandriva
  7. PCLinuxOS
  8. Puppy
  9. Sabayon
  10. CentOS

This is the list that we’ll use going forward to compare the top distros.

2. Website popularity

There are several companies that specialize in ranking websites. None of these sites are perfect and many people discount them all together. We thought it would be interesting to see how some of the top Linux distribution websites stack up in these net rankings. Here are current rankings for the top 10 distros (from the Distrowatch list). The November 2007 results are included in parenthesis.

Netcraft Rankings

  1. www.ubuntu.com: 694 (up from 1,649)
  2. www.OpenSUSE.org: 1,823 (up from 4,622)
  3. www.debian.org: 1,938 (down from 1,719)
  4. fedoraproject.org: 2,164 (up from 4,314)
  5. www.centos.org: 3,054 (not on the list in 2007)
  6. www.linuxmint.com: 3,150 (way up from 41,331)
  7. www.mandriva.com: 10,049 (down from 7,691)
  8. www.pclinuxos.com: 10,479 (up from 11,144)
  9. www.puppylinux.org: 14,196 (not on the list in 2007)
  10. www.sabayonlinux.org: 36,494 (down from 28,549)

Alexa Rankings

  1. www.ubuntu.com: 2,327 (up from 2,445)
  2. www.debian.org: 4,475 (down from 3,499)
  3. www.OpenSUSE.org: 10,889 (down from 7,878)
  4. fedoraproject.org: 12,992 (down from 11,127)
  5. www.centos.org: 16,198 (not on the list in 2007)
  6. www.linuxmint.com: 29,146 (up from 69,753)
  7. www.mandriva.com: 30,945 (down from 18,497)
  8. www.puppylinux.org: 62,103 (not on the list in 2007)
  9. www.pclinuxos.com: 80,114 (down from 57,390)
  10. www.sabayonlinux.org: 120,109 (down from 72,331)

So, it seems that Ubuntu is, according to these sites, the most visited of the distros from distrowatch’s top 10. It’s also interesting to note that Linux Mint’s rankings have dramatically improved since 2007. Perhaps Mint’s popularity has something to do with their focus on being user friendly (and not brown)?

Blogging Trends

Sites like Technorati and BlogPulse allow you to track how often people are blogging about a certain topic. We compared Ubuntu’s blog buzz to other top Linux distros and found that people are writing about Ubuntu far more than any other Linux distro.


We took the top three distros from distrowatch and compared them on BlogPulse.

Ubuntu vs Fedora vs OpenSUSE


Technorati shows very similar results when comparing Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE and Debian over the last 180 days.

Technorati results

As you can see, people are blogging about Ubuntu far more often than other distros. (We’d also like to note that a good amount of blog posts that contain the word “fedora” are about the hat and not the Linux distro).

Google Trends

Again we decided to look at Google Trends to see which distros people are searching for. Of course, there is a lot of room for error as someone could be searching for the philosophy of Ubuntu, for a new Fedora hat, or for The Red Hat Society.

First we compare our top 4 distros from above. You can clearly see that from the second half of 2006, there are far more searches for Ubuntu than for Debian, Fedora (including Fedora Core, and Red Hat searches) or openSUSE (including SUSE).

Google Trends

Next we compare Ubuntu to the rest of the top 10 distros combined (including variations of the distro names such as Red Hat). It seems that since mid 2007, Ubuntu is being searched for more often than all the other distros combined.

Google Trends

Here we compare Ubuntu to Linux, Unix, FreeBSD and Solaris. Clearly Linux has the lead, but Ubuntu gets really close around release dates. In 2007, we thought this trend would lead to “Ubuntu” overtaking “Linux” as a search term, but this clearly has not happened.

Google Trends

Finally, for some perspective, we compare Ubuntu, Linux, Mac, and Windows.

Google Trends


Since our original article was published, searching Twitter trends has become an interesting way of finding out what people are talking about. We used Twist to compare the same top 4 distros. Here is a graph comparing tweets over the last 30 days. (Once again, a whole lot of the “fedora” tweets are about the hat, not the Linux distro).

Twist results

And finally, we compare Ubuntu with Linux, Mac and Windows.

Twist results


It appears that Ubuntu is still the most popular Linux distribution. According to some stats, it’s more popular now than ever. Of course, these stats don’t really tell us how many people actually use Ubuntu. They do, however, give an interesting insight into Ubuntu’s relative popularity on the internet. They also re-emphasize just how far Ubuntu (and Linux in general) have to go to catch up with Mac and Windows.

Remember, this was all just for fun, no need to get upset if you don’t like something you see here (or if we left out your favorite distro). Whatever your favorite OS is, the most important thing is that it works for you and that you can be productive using it. So, until next time, happy computing!

“In terms of numbers we’re very confident this is an 8 million plus user base of active users,” Chris Kenyon, director of business development at Canonical told InternetNews.com. “That is a hard thing to count and there are lots of issues about methodology for counting but I have seen nothing that sheds doubts on that.”