Ubuntu: Just how popular is it?

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Update:See newer statistics here.

There is no doubt that Ubuntu's popularity has grown dramatically over the past few years, but just how popular is Ubuntu? How many people have ever heard of Ubuntu? How many people visit the Ubuntu site each month? How many people have tried Ubuntu, and more importantly, how many people are actually using it? According to Canonical's official press release for Gutsy Gibbon, Ubuntu has a "strong and growing user base of over 6 million people." Where Canonical got this number is not clear, and they have provided no evidence to back up this claim. Nobody really knows how many people are using Ubuntu, but we found some interesting statistics online that show Ubuntu's popularity is growing. From these statistics, it looks like Ubuntu has become far more popular than any other Linux distribution.

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!

So, where can we look online to judge Ubuntu's popularity?

1. DistroWatch.com

Traditionally, people have turned to DistroWatch.com’s ranking of different versions of Linux to judge a distro’s popularity. This is simply a ranking of the average number of hits per day that each distro’s page gets on the DistroWatch.com site. This ranking system is obviously not a very accurate representation of a Linux distro’s popularity, but it is the generally accepted by the community as an indication of what distros are most popular. Ubuntu has been at the top of this list for some time, and only in the last six months has been surpassed by PCLinuxOS.

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

  1. PCLinuxOS
  2. Ubuntu
  3. openSUSE
  4. Fedora
  5. Sabayon
  6. Mint
  7. Debian
  8. Mandriva
  9. MEPIS
  10. Damn Small
Does this mean that PCLinuxOS is now more popular that Ubuntu? As the following stats show, this is hardly the case.

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). When a distro has a corporate sponsor, we’ve included their website ranking in parentheses.

Netcraft Rankings

  1. www.ubuntu.com: 1,649 (www.canonical.com: 88,013)
  2. www.debian.org: 1,719
  3. fedoraproject.org: 4,314 (www.redhat.com: 1,273)
  4. www.OpenSUSE.org: 4,622 (www.novell.com: 630)
  5. www.mandriva.com: 7,691
  6. www.mepis.org: 8,021
  7. www.damnsmalllinux.org: 8,605
  8. www.pclinuxos.com 11,144
  9. www.sabayonlinux.org: 28,549
  10. www.linuxmint.com: 41,331

Alexa Rankings

  1. www.ubuntu.com: 2,445 (canonical.com: 119,849)
  2. www.debian.org: 3,499
  3. www.OpenSUSE.org: 7,878 (novell.com: 9,154)
  4. fedoraproject.org: 11,127 (redhat.com: 7,089)
  5. www.mandriva.com: 18,497
  6. www.damnsmalllinux.org: 49,544
  7. www.pclinuxos.com: 57,390
  8. www.sabayonlinux.org: 72,331
  9. www.linuxmint.com: 69,753
  10. www.mepis.org: 82,654
Update: As someone pointed out on Digg, Gentoo’s website should probably be included in this list. We didn’t include Gentoo in our original numbers because we used the Distrowatch.com top 10 as our starting point (you have to start somewhere). To be fair, let it be noted that Gentoo’s Netcraft ranking is 859 and their Alexa ranking is 8,919 which would place gentoo.com in 1st place and 4th place respectively.

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.

BlogPulse

We took the top 3 Linux distros from the above website rankings and compared them on BlogPulse. As you can see, people are blogging about Ubuntu far more often. There is also a large surge in blog posts about Ubuntu surrounding the recent October 18th release of Gutsy Gibbon. Ubuntu vs Fedora vs OpenSUSE

Technorati

Technorati shows very similar results when comparing Ubuntu, Debian and Fedora over the last 30 days (note the scale difference in these graphs).
Ubuntu Debian Fedora

Google Trends

Perhaps the most interesting statistics come from Google Trends. This tool allows you to compare different terms and see how often people search for them. The tool is far from perfect and is still in Google’s “labs”, but it does give some interesting insight into how often people search for different Linux distros. 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 3 distros from above. You can clearly see that from the second half of 2006, there are far more searches for Ubuntu than for Debian and Fedora (including Fedora Core, and Red Hat searches).

Next we compare Ubuntu to the rest of the top 10 distros combined (including variations of the distro names such as Red Hat). As you can see, for the last few months, Ubuntu has been searched for more often than all the other top 10 combined.

We found another interesting trend when comparing Ubuntu to Linux, Unix, FreeBSD and Solaris. Clearly Linux has the lead, but Ubuntu is not far behind.

Finally, just to be fair, we compare Ubuntu, Linux, Mac, and Windows.

DIGG

Then there’s always Digg.com. How many times have these popular Linux distros made it to the front page of Digg in the last 6 months (stories containing the distro’s name in the title)? We did some searching and found the following information very interesting.
  1. Ubuntu: 163
  2. Fedora: 10
  3. Mandriva: 8
  4. SUSE: 8
  5. Debian: 6
  6. PCLinuxOS: 3
  7. MEPIS: 1
  8. Sabayon: 1
  9. Mint: 0
  10. Damn Small: 0

Conclusion

So what do all these statistics really mean? Honestly, probably nothing. They can’t tell us anything about real Ubuntu usage. However, they do seem to show that Ubuntu has managed to gain a large portion of the Linux mind share, at least amongst the tech community. We enjoyed uncovering and compiling these stats, but please remember that it’s just a bunch of unscientific data, it’s just for fun. We hope you enjoyed this article, now back to your favorite OS (whatever that might be).

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