Linux Adoption Curve

Relating to the article, and a little bit about what we were discussing in class, I thought it’d be interesting to consider the adoption curve for the Linux, or GNU/Linux operating system.

As we mentioned in class, Linux is a free (REALLY free) operating system (OS), which anyone can download, or get on a cd for only the price of the cd. For the non-huge-nerds among us, Linux shares much with an operating system called Unix, which is what the IBM/Airlines/Banks/etc (big companies) used to run their computers way back in the 1970’s and 80’s. Like Unix, Linux is a powerful, stable, customizable OS. It is also (to some people, most importantly), open source software. Open source means that the code (which is just special text) used to build the operating system is also released with the program. Open source software is its own huge topic, but suffice to say, most huge-nerds agree it’s an excellent selling point, and a very strong attribute of Linux. Some excellent programs that were mentioned in class that you might use already are also open source are Mozilla (an internet tools suite), and Mozilla Firefox (a lightweight web browser).

You can do nearly everything you do on Windows or a Mac, and in many cases considerably more, for no cost other than the time it takes to learn some of the quirks of a new operating system.

Anyways, enough with the evangelizing. It’s interesting to try to figure out where on the adoption curve Linux is. The early adopters of course, were generally programmers, and other enormous nerds. They installed Linux when it was an ugly command line mess, and they loved every minute of it. Beyond them, Linux also seems to have picked up people who either don’t like the inherent evilness of Microsoft, are tired of dealing with viruses (not that Linux is immune), or need to things other OS’s simply won’t allow. However Linux certainly hasn’t gained widespread adoption, although I believe it now has significantly more users than MacOS, the perennial #2 to Windows on the desktop.

So I would argue we’re at the bottom of the curve. In the CS department, I’d guess maybe 1/3rd to 1/2 of the students have Linux installed. I would say nearly all tech-savvy people are aware of Linux, and of the small minority who have actually attempted to use it (particularly lately, as the user interface has improved considerably) come off favorably impressed. The things I feel which are holding back its widespread diffusion, beyond just general ignorance, are its user interface: it is still not as consistent as the MacOS, lack of social support in most circles (if your Linux PC has a problem, the friendly nerd you rely on most of the time may not know what to do), and it suffers from the ‘competing solutions’ problem, similar to the scurvy ‘cure’ in the reading, in that there are many groups and companies which release versions of Linux called distributions, and to a newcomer, it is pretty overwhelming, so they’re often as likely to just forget about it and stick with Windows.

Even if you’re not feeling up to the switch, I feel like it’s certainly a trend to watch. There is no one company distributing Linux, so Microsoft can’t buy them out of business, and Linux is only getting better with time. So hop on to the S-curve while it’s still cool to do so!

3 Responses to “Linux Adoption Curve”

  1. Ira says:

    Interesting analysis of Linux’s adoption. But, I think you are mistaken about it being used by more people than Mac OS. Recent estimates by IDG and CNET put total Linux users at around 18 million, Mac OS users at around 25-30 million, and windows users over 400 million.

    Besides programmers, I have noticed that a lot of science researchers and professors seem to like Linux for its reliability.

    Both the Mac OS and Windows are routinely distributed with hardware which helps a lot with diffusion. Someone who wants to use Linux has to go out and buy the OS (or download it) and then install it. It’s quite hard to find machines ready to buy loaded up with RedHat for example. I believe this contributes considerable to why Linux falls where it does on the adoption curve.

  2. Henry Balen says:

    FYI – Mac OS X is based on BSD Unix and the underlying OS is free (see Open Darwin and Darwin). It is available as Darwin and will run on Intel processors as well. Mac OS X adds a UI layer.

    Also not all Mac OS users are using OS X some are still using OS 9 or earlier (which is a propriety OS), so it is possible that there are more Linux users than OS X (also remember that Linux can run on Apple hardware).

    You can order machines with linux pre-installed (even from companies such as Dell)! Though Linux does not present a cohesive UI for naive users – and the majority of the public seem to use computers primarily to play games or access the Internet.