The state of Linux according to Google

This is a look at the state of Linux through the eyes of Google Trends, Google’s highly useful search trend analyzer.

The Linux distributions compared

Everyone says Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution, and boy does it become obvious when looking at it through Google’s eyes.

Linux distributions compared

With all the buzz, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ubuntu is king, and while the other distributions are experiencing a downward trend, Ubuntu keeps growing. It’s also interesting to see that Red Hat is firmly at the bottom when comparing these five distributions.

(Google Trends only allows you to compare up to five different search terms, if you wonder why we didn’t include more.)

KDE or Gnome?

How about Linux desktop environments? KDE or Gnome, which one is more popular? Once again, let’s see what Google have to say.

KDE and Gnome compared

They’re pretty much equal in popularity, but it seems like KDE shows up a lot more in the news (the small graph at the bottom).

Linux beats Windows Vista

According to this comparison, Linux is actually beating Windows Vista. However, it appears that “Linux” as a search term is clearly on the decline.

Linux versus Windows Vista

And just to tie in with the initial trend graphs for Linux distributions, how does the popular Ubuntu fare against Windows Vista?

Windows Vista vs Ubuntu

An interesting observation from the last two graphs, if you combine them, is that “Ubuntu” may soon be a more common search term than “Linux”. That would be quite a feat…


Though looking at search statistics can never give a complete picture, this gives an interesting perspective to how things are going for Linux, especially when viewed through the eyes of such a dominant and pervasive search engine as Google.

Did we miss something blatantly obvious and should be shot on the spot? Tell us in the comments (but please don’t actually shoot us).


  1. It seems fedora got a spike at every release. People really wanted to give it another try but time after time it inevitably turned out to be complete crap 😛 (my own opinion, naturally). Ubuntu deserves the crown, though it’s somewhat sad to see Debian diminishing.

  2. Interesting post.

    The conclusion about Ubuntu might be right, according to the buzz I too have been hearing.

    But it might or not be the case that Red Hat is going down on the server side – according to a friend of mine who is an experienced Linux administrator – he was one at a big U.S. university, and is now with a top dot-com startup, RHEL is very good for servers … (though of course, I don’t know if you meant your conclusion to include servers too).

    Just my 2c.

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  3. @phil: Well look at the stories google brings up? Ubuntu is an African word, Vista is apparently a Spanish word (according to my dictionary it’s English), and still all it seems to be finding are English articles! Fascinating. I think google _may_ have thought about the language thing.

  4. Also remarkable to see the ubuntu release dates creating spikes that have an increasing ‘signal to noise ratio’. The spikes grow faster than the regular search volume does. This might imply:

    – A lot of release publicity, but in the end not so much people really switching to Ubuntu
    – Increasing hardware support/less bugs each new release. People download the iso and it ‘just works’, so no need to query ubuntu forums etc.

    And: decreasing search volume can mean two things:
    – people loose interest in searching for something, because they increasingly already have it, compare In this case, less search means more success. Typically, the news reference volume will be the inverse of the search volume.
    – people loose interest in something alltogether. Try . In this case the search volume and the news volume show the same trend.

  5. As others have noted, name collisions are a problem with this kind of survey (which is really not that likely to be much more useful than the linuxsucks-vs-windowssucks Google comparisons of yesteryearm which looked at the ratio of hits when searching for disparaging comments). I do believe that this type of search could be made useful, but I’m not quite sure how, as the search terms would need to be very carefully crafted to prevent false positives. You also couldn’t easily deal with news sites being mirrored unequally. N mirrors doesn’t equal N times as many news references. Does a cut-and-paste from one news source (say, Reuters) to N news services count as one mirrored article or N original ones?

  6. codemac: If you isolate California in Popsicle’s “ubuntu, vista, linux” search, you can see the influence of the common word vista. The results from San Diego, whose neighboring towns include Vista and Chula Vista are highly skewed — in both English and Spanish. There’s Vista Paints in Anahiem. Dozens of streets names include the word… Since we can’t tell which result(s) the user selected, we can’t properly interpret the graph.

  7. Clarification: “search volume” means (something like) “how often people used this term in a search”, not “how many searches were performed from a browser running this distribution”.

    Thus, the results measure not simply popularity (as the article might suggest) but some mix of popularity and hype/press-friendliness and some other things (e.g. would you try to find out how to do something on ubuntu with a google search mentioning ubuntu vs s/ubuntu/microsoft windows/).

    (Also, this means that the graph doesn’t support Stuart’s conclusion about briefly trying Fedora at each release.)

  8. Despite the shortcomings pointed out (which I think don’t change the conclusions about the trends) I like the work you did here. It seems that soon most people will just use “Ubuntu” for “GNU/Linux” like they use “hoover” for “vacuum cleaner”.

    Perhaps we should ask Google to help by putting up a shortlist of alternative queries the user could have opted for: “Did you mean: GNU/Linux” 🙂

  9. Hi,

    Though Vista is a Spanish (and English) word you can isolate this part quite well.
    Look at the vista graph during 2004, the volume is low and constant. Then in
    mid-2005 there is an upturn. This corresponds to the date that “Vista” was
    announced, and the “Longhorn” codename was dropped. We can thus assume that
    the flat period before this is the background search volume for the plain
    word vista, assuming that there have been no effects on this volume.

    Subtracting this from the curve reduce Vista’s lead somewhat, but it is still above
    the other two terms.

    Similar analysis shows that people searching for the African word “ubuntu” have
    little impact on these results, though the release of Ubuntu probably did
    affect this number more than the release of Vista impacted the searches for the
    Spanish/English word, as it probably increased the number of people that had
    heard of the word and wanted to know what it means.



  10. The statistics only show the number of searches. It does not automatically mean something is popular. In fact, it may just be the reverse. People may have been forced to use Ubuntu, Gnome or Vista and are now searching for ways to get along with it, search for known bugs, and how to workaround it.

  11. Ok its pretty obvious that if you search windows it could give you a actual window for a house as part the results, and vista is Spanish for something else, so I think the only way to do a proper search is “microsoft” and “linux” as searches, since those are brand specific searches. Also most of the world is still using xp as its main operating system not vista maybe windows seven will be better?, Which we all know Vista is crap and it took years for xp to be what it is today, When they made vista they should of just continued xp and themed it and add better security and the newer file system. Then they would of never had so many compatibility issues. You would think that the one of the richest companies in the world would do the obvious instead of reinventing the wheel. Linux is way better anyways, To bad Abobe is such bastards and don’t Port there programs to Linux, like the CS3 series and microsoft are also bastards because they don’t let there codes available legally to linux, like wma,asx etc. That should be illegal that a company has a media product that sells to national news stations that provides there streams on the net, not knowing what they are doing are excluding a great portion of the net from legally viewing it. Its like they are almost purposely making people break the law to view free video newscast. Bastards.
    we were talking about?

  12. Not surprising to see a much lower volume of google searches for RedHat. They have a very strong presence in the corporate server market (you know…, the market that actually pays for stuff)and those people are paying out the nose for RedHat support. I know if I were paying RedHat prices for support i’d be calling them and not hitting google when I have a problem. Also, that same server market is numerically much smaller than the consumer/enthusiast/hobby market and is much less focused on either the UI goodness that’s Ubuntu’s claim to fame or free.

  13. vista is a spanisch AND an italian (common) word. Google may return english articles for you english and american people but i (in italy) get much more stuff too.
    But there should have been the “windows” (only) search term included too.

  14. When looking for resources for a well established distribution, its only natural to go to their sites or forums, not much searching is needed. Its important to remember that searches indicate interest and perhaps popularity, and not actual usage or community size.

  15. I wouldn’t consider these results to lead to any conclusion. Here is why.

    1- Linux users tend to do more research in order to fix, update, tweak with their systems compared to windows which is pratically dumbproof (if you consider someone you doesn’t want/is scared of any tweaking on windows)

    2- I often find myself typing the linux distro in order to get more precise howto’s for my tweaking/fixing of my system. I think most people do the same thing.

    3- Gnome is so much better than KDE so the results have to be wrong 😛 (joke)

  16. The results are more or less on expected lines especially when you consider the kind of buzz around ubuntu. The servers are not the ones that determine the mass adoption. In that respect, if ubuntu starts getting onto the desktops it is hardly surprising.

    We would have already seen this with the adoption of mac osx with apple laptops. But sadly for linux you hardly get to see on desktops on shopping malls.

    Asustek EeePC and Everex are the only exceptions. Recently,Dell is also planning to tip that with ubuntu on a particular model of laptop.

    How pathetic, that the public ignorance coupled with commercial inertia owing to the arm-twisting tactics of the major palyer prevents ordianry people from gaining the fruits of research of countless bright brains around the globe.

    Long Live Linux. It is the Future.

  17. Did you take in account that ubuntu users often use the code name for a specific release instead of actually looking for the word “ubuntu”. The latest release, for instance, is called Gutsy, and gives often better search results than actually searching for “ubuntu” or “ubuntu 7.10”?

  18. As others have pointed out, this is a highly biased article. Comparing Windows Vista to Ubuntu is like comparing Toyota Prius to Chevrolet:

    Wow, looks like Chevrolet is way more popular and hardly anybody searches for Toyota Prius! However, let’s try comparing just the brands and not the products:

    Now it’s the exact opposite. Some other fun ones:

    And it’s good to see that in Q2 2005, Ubuntu became far more popular than masturbation:

    All those teens entering puberty must be running Linux.

  19. People… these are just search terms… I don’t use google to search for redhat, fedora or linux in general… I type in, or… or some other link that has my fav linux news/help i’m looking for.
    Search can only show you what is “hot” from a non-user perspective. If you use some OS, then you go to that OS’s website, not google.

  20. A important Message for New User’s trying Linux for the first time. Linux is far more than Ubuntu, SuSe, Fedora, Debian and Redhat.
    With around 500-1000 different versions of Linux available for download free at any one time, you owe it to yourself to experiment with far more than the above 5 Distro’s. I am a long time Linux User and also have my own version of Linux available for download from softpedia.
    I not going to list its name here as that’s not the point of this comment. I will say that it plays 95% of the media formats out there straight away. FLASH, JAVA, MP3’s AVI’s Encrypted DVD’s all work for the live CD. This is something due to legal reasons the above 5 don’t do without configuring from the end user. I recommend new user’s visit where they will be able to find info and download links to all the popular Linux versions and then be able to really know what the wonderful world of Linux has to offer.

  21. There’s nothing wrong with Fedora. I’m using Fedora 8 and it’s working like a charm unlike Ubuntu 7.1. I may have contributed into the graph for Ubuntu while searching for solutions when facing so many Ubuntu 7.1 problems. 🙂

  22. Most of the time when I’m searching on a distribution it is to fix an error. When you append error to each of the distributions you get:

    Either Ubuntu is getting a larger user base, their users are getting stupider or their product is going downhill. It’s probably the larger user base, but being a fedora user I thought I’d add the last two possibilities for fun. Good on them, but I’m happy with fedora.

  23. The fact that ubuntu is so much fore frequent in searches might not be only because it is more popular. Most of the ubuntu users are new, and thus they need to search for help on the internet far more often. Not everyone who uses ubuntu has the ubuntu forums bookmarked, but more experienced users most likely have their forums and resources bookmarked, or do not need them nearly as often.

    It’s also true that it could be due to instabilities and problems. Ubuntu is not nearly as reliable as debian or other mature distros.

  24. One big problem with these statistics is that, in fact, Ubuntu *is* Debian. My understanding is that Ubuntu distros are actually Debian distros with extra friendliness. This should be obvious to everyone who uses Ubuntu, because Ubuntu packages are in fact Debian packages (*.deb).

    Ubuntu thus absolutely depends on the support of Debian’s large community of hardworking volunteers. It’s quite misleading to portray the two projects as competing with each other, as these charts do. My understanding is that every Ubuntu distribution starts life as a Debian leading-edge (“unstable” in Debian-speak) distro.

  25. Wow, I can’t believe you posted this. I did the exact same research for my last job to promote to my company (a software company) to start focusing on other platforms. Some other comparisons I’ve done is three of the major Microsoft’s operating systems with the top three Linux distributions. It got a lot of feedback and there is definite consideration to start making things more cross-platform (even among the old-school developers who’ve been there for 20+ years and are still working with Fortran (yeah, it’s still being used)).
    Just to add to what I did find, an explanation I gave when presenting this was that even though this is solely based on Google search results, most of the time, these search results correspond to when a user is having difficulty, and no matter what the case, a user is going to run into trouble at some point. So, with these results, you can find that the user base is growing while windows is getting a hit. Another point to note is where a lot of these results are coming from. Try the searches yourself. A major hotspot right now is northern Europe (Finland and Norway specifically) and the trend that happened there 4 or 5 years ago is starting to show where I am in Canada and also in the United States.

    P.S. Thanks nate for that add… love it!

    P.S.S. StatsBoy, Ubuntu is one ‘flavor’ of Linux, just like Windows XP is one ‘flavor’ of Microsoft.

  26. Also keep in mind, this is based on search queries!
    This is can show support needed for each items. So it appears that ubuntu has more interest, but it can also show that ubuntu has more issues. I use ubuntu, and the only reason i search is to resolve a problem. With that in mind, all of my ubuntu problems are answered with one search, where any windows (vista, or xp) is never answered on the first try!

  27. Well,
    interesting stats… but what’s the reason when people enter “vista” or “linux” on google??? When I enter Linux in a searchengine it’s because I’ve got a problem, but often the same goes for Vista.

    So my conclusion is these stats don’t mean a thing unless you can attach a reason why these keywords are entered in google. Problemsolving? need for information? searching for plugins, addons, tutorials?

    I think these stats tell that Ubuntu is becoming very well known. But browserstats will tell more about the usage of these OS’.

  28. Which flea owns the dog? Be happy that you know any Linux distro. A free os? Help your friends get away from Microwhat. Microsoft is dying, lets give Linux a boost.

  29. Also, you have to consider. Most linux users will elect to use google, while on windows, the default search engine is MSN. Also, how many windows users will google something to do with their OS. While Linux fans tend to be a bit more geeky and will google Linux more.

    In fact because of this, from what I have seen of the Internet, I would say there are 5 times more Linux help sites, then windows.

  30. As far as search for Ubuntu vs. Linux, I always put Ubuntu in my search now because it nearly always brings back Ubuntu specific results to my issue rather than Linux general results. I’ve been using Linux now for several years (Started with RedHat, the Debian, now Ubuntu for the last several years). Because I don’t want to tinker, I just want my stuff to work. And Ubuntu just works.(without much of the tinkering)

  31. The trends are similar in all searches, with all the search terms listed above, with any of the adjustements listed above.

    – ubuntu searches are rising at a steady rate
    – windows xp, vista, windows vista and similar searches are declining at a steady rate.
    – linux searches are declining at a steady rate
    – product introductions cause spikes

    Mr. Westby, thank you for a method to partially account for common-word usage. Even Mr. Westby’s corrections do not affect the trends.

    Of course search trends do not mean significant installations. Web stats can compare the usage to the buzz.

  32. As a novice in using Ubuntu I have noticed that websites seem to know that I am actually using Ubuntu rather than Windows XP. Does Google gather statistics on what OS a person is using rather than what they are searching for? To me that would be a much more important statistic because it will enable users to lobby for Ubuntu / Linux specific software.

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