Apple is Killing Linux on the Desktop

by Chris Howard Jan 03, 2008

2008 is upon us and we’re greeted with the news, from NetApplications, that Apple Macs running OS X account for 7.3% of computers used to access the web.

More than a few Mac sites have mischievously quoted this as Macs having 7.3% market share. Market share of course is based on computer sales, as OS X’s own dictionary states. Not that market share accurately reflects the actual install base, and nor do these internet access figures.

However, as is also being noted, it is the trend of these figures that bears consideration. In the last two years, OS X has seen continual growth, from 4.21% in Jan 2006 (the first month of figures), to 5.67% in December 2006, to 7.31% in December 2007.

In the same time, Linux’s percentage has risen from only 0.29% to 0.63%. Although depending on how you apply the maths—you can put a positive slant on that by saying it’s more than doubled—the cold truth is Linux on the desktop is still barely worth mentioning. To paraphrase: reports of its life have been greatly exaggerated.

These figures are quite disturbing from Linux’s desktop perspective and although they have more than doubled, consider the iPhone has already achieved 0.12% in just six months. The iPhone has the potential to become the third most popular internet connected device! That deserves an exclamation mark.

The Linux figure is quite surprising considering the coverage Linux gets in computer magazines. Of the consumer computer magazines available in my part of the world, most of them give Linux a significantly disproportionately larger coverage than its desktop install-base demands, but none have specialist columns for Macs. That’s always seemed unfair, and now seeing these figures proves it so.

Linux has obviously not been helped at all by the Mac’s resurgence, and probably most importantly, Apple’s decision to switch to Intel CPUs.

Early in the decade it seemed that if you wanted a Windows alternative, Linux was it. Nowadays, an Apple Mac is undoubtedly the alternative and, with its resurgence and its Intel base, a very viable one.

Not that long ago there was almost a consensus that Linux would soon over take Apple. Several commentators suggested a few years ago that Apple’s biggest threat was not Microsoft, but Linux. Apple has taken care of that threat!

It’s not hard to understand why Linux has failed to live up to the promise of being a viable desktop alternative to Windows. Linux’s problems are many. For example: Apple has Microsoft Office, Linux doesn’t; Apple has Adobe Creative Suite, Linux doesn’t; Apple has easily accessed and easy to use service and support, Linux doesn’t; Apple is driven by someone who has some understanding of end-user needs, Linux is not.

Unfortunately though, it’s not necessarily a good thing for Linux to be struggling on the desktop, as the Linux community has so much to offer desktop computing. But with Apple and the Mac flying, Linux may never get the chance again.


  • trashbird, great piece.

    However, one small question, how did I become a “prophet of doom for Unix” by suggesting Linux has failed in the desktop market?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jan 09, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • Perhaps “prophet of doom” was an overstatement.  Especially if you
    only meant to express the current competitive situation.  However,
    when I read things like this all I have to say typically is “So what?
    I’ve been hearing about how Unix is dying for 15 years,” in other
    words since I was 13 years old.  That doesn’t change how much I love
    it.  I mean I absolutely love using Unix—- the rush of power I get
    from using the keyboard almost all the time is only a small part of it

    I also hear about how TeX is dying, Lisp is dying, Emacs is dying,
    etc.  I *also* hear about how “this is the year that Linux will take
    over.”  I have a hard time believing any of it, because most of it is
    just opinions expressed by people who are either uninformed or believe
    that any of these things should necessarily be true.  For example, the
    idea that Unix in any form needs a larger user base than other
    operating systems to survive is just preposterous.  It can survive
    quite well without being the most popular.  Rock ‘n roll has never
    been the most popular form of music, but I don’t think it’s going
    away; not in the US anyway.

    I think there will always be a diversity of opinion; there’s always
    going to be people who like Macintosh in whatever form: someone
    already made the point that OS X is very different from earlier
    versions, and yet people still flock to it.  I doubt Macintosh will
    ever die for the same reasons that I doubt Unix will.  Even something
    with as small a user base as Plan 9 from Bell Labs is still alive and
    kicking after twenty years of not getting adopted.  Despite “being a
    failure for twenty years,” Plan 9 has had some pretty significant
    influences on the computing world (e.g., UTF-8).

    trashbird1240 had this to say on Jan 10, 2008 Posts: 2
  • @27: “Linux will never be a main stream desktop OS as long as the current development model is used. You have hundreds of distro’s with thousands of great developers using a shotgun approach to desktop applications… And they quit (for the most part) when the app is 90% complete! I can’t tell you how many apps I’ve installed that were almost there, just needing a few more tweeks and it would be great! But they never come… Very frustrating! there is great waste in time and effort using the current OSS methodology!”

    Your comment is odd, to say the least. Most of the mainstream free and open source software is developed principally by *corporations*, not hobbyists.  Linux is developed primarily by IBM and Red Hat; by Sun; FireFox by Mozilla; Python by Google; and so on.

    Are you asserting that IBM, Sun, and Google are incompetent to develop software?

    And are you really comfortable disagreeing with virtually the entirety of recent IT research? For example, Gartner Group recently stated that 80% of *proprietary* software products will rely on OSS project code by 2011 - yet you believe OSS methods are basically *incompetent*?

    Just curious, really. The FOSS software I use is of generally *much* higher quality than leading proprietary alternates (for the examples above: Windows, MS Office, IE 7, and Visual Basic, respectively), so I’m quite content with my choices (and Gartner’s research wink.

    George F. Rice had this to say on Feb 05, 2008 Posts: 25
  • I have been reading the article and a lot of the comments with interest and a certain amount of humour. I have been a Linux and MS user for many years and this year I bought a second hand G4 Mac on a whim to see what all the fuss was about.
    Well.. Mac OS9 is like using an old Amiga - in fact i got my old Amiga out of the Attic and sparked it up and the similarities are so close its unbelievable but the Amiga runs faster and was easier to set up. The new Apple OS (my friend has a new MAC) is Linux with a few tweaks - so how any Apple user can run down Linux is unbelieveable.
    The argument that Linux will never be desktop ready is also rubbish and this could only come from a propriety platform supporter/user/developer - the reason Linux struggles is because of these people not releasing hardware info as fast as they do for Apple or Microsoft. I also suggest that you tell the Chinese government that Linux is not ready as they are now using it over any other platform and if you check figures worldwide you will find that Apple has been left behind and Microsoft is now looking over its shoulder - or maybe people like Dell, HP and IBM and Novell have got their sums wrong???
    Sorry to have a go at an Apple supporter but you really should get your facts right - by the way I am quite happy to install Linux for you and show you how it will happily chunter along for years without falling over. A new Apple user that is not impressed as you can probably tell.

    demerzal had this to say on Mar 10, 2008 Posts: 1
  • most of it is
    just opinions expressed by people who are either uninformed or believe
    that any of these things should necessarily be true. web advertising|jobs|importing from china

    jun12 had this to say on Jun 29, 2011 Posts: 44
  • Apple’s biggest threat was not Microsoft, but Linux. Apple has taken care of that threat!” is and to be honest, who really cares if it’s true or not? ads|part time jobs|china import

    jun12 had this to say on Jul 12, 2011 Posts: 44
  • I don’t know why Macs have so little market share because they are good products. The market share in Europe I think is much lower. Prepaid Handy Orten | Kostenlos Handy orten

    Ibios had this to say on Oct 31, 2011 Posts: 3
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