Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Market Share

I consistently find myself looking up statistics for OS market share around this time every year. Every year numbers change. Every website reports different numbers from the last, and the only thing that one can assuredly deduce is that it is impossible to accurately gauge how many systems are running a specific OS. With that said, market share does matter.

For software engineers, time is very limited. It takes much of one's limited resources to make quality software, and it takes quite a bit of time. This means that choosing target platforms is very important if you plan on being successful with a certain product. It would be folly to write server software for a system that will not succeed in the server market. Likewise, it would be folly to write entertainment software for a system that will never succeed in the entertainment world. Strangely, Linux is only a large force in mainframes and super computers. There Linux is not only a contender, but is instead the only contender. In the server realm, we can reliably say the until rather recently Linux and BSD were the strongest. Microsoft has caught up quickly and can now claim roughly 40% as can Linux, and everyone else makes up the remaining 20%.

What's interesting is the hold that Microsoft has on the desktop market. According to the w3counter: OSX is 7.83%, Linux is 2.78%, iPhone, WAP, and Android together make up about 1%, and everything else is Windows. What's funny is that Apple is now the 7th largest computer manufacturer in the world. They're also the only one to have beaten the industry average in growth for Q1 of 2010. What does this mean?

This means that there is still a chance for the rest of us. Apple has proven that Microsoft's empire is not invulnerable. If people can recognize the differences between Mac and PC, they can recognize the difference among Linux, Mac, and PC. With that said, I think that people are also learning the reality. Windows just sucks. I am not saying this from a fanboy stand point. I dislike Macintosh too. I don't even really care for Linux. I simply think that Linux and OSX are better products than Windows (security, stability, ease of use, performance, scalability, total cost of ownership). The key to this is simply Total Cost of Ownership.

With a Windows system, people will suffer from many different things. First, the cost of upgrades: software (Windows and applications for Windows will need to be purchased), labor for IT personnel, and hardware upgrades/replacements. Second, the cost of maintaining Windows machines: anti-malware/security software (usually annually recurring costs), IT personnel to monitor system health, compatibility management with Windows update, and security staff that are well aware of social engineering attacks.

With Macintosh, you have a higher initial equipment investment, but afterwards you need only worry about social engineering attacks (usually, this is unauthorized physical access to a certain machine). Upgrade costs are minimal (around 30USD for each OS upgrade), and backwards compatibility among OSX versions is fairly acceptable.

With Linux systems, you set it and forget it. The hardware cost isn't high. The only cost here is protection from social engineering attacks (like Macintosh, these are usually unauthorized physical access to a given machine). So far, all three are susceptible to tampering when in person. You simply need a liveCD/USB, and/or a laptop, a screwdriver, and an ATA-USB bridge... and all the data can be yours if you are so inclined. This will never change, but what is changing is important. Linux, OSX, BSD, and Solaris are all far more secure than is Windows. This is not due to obscurity. Linux is hardly obscure. It competes with Microsoft in the most valuable market, servers. Do I want one credit card number, or one million credit card numbers. I will go with the million. Windows suffers because it's an easy target. The differences are largely architectural. OSX, BSD, and Solaris share this architecture and enjoy its benefits.

So where does market share difference leave us? The same place we started, except we can look forward to a better future. The trend lines show Unix-like systems winning the OS wars. Microsoft is still the giant, but Linux and OSX are gaining.


Jeff91 said...

"You simply need a liveCD/USB, and/or a laptop, a screwdriver, and an ATA-USB bridge... and all the data can be yours if you are so inclined. This will never change"

Pff, not if I encrypt my home directory. At least it would take you awhile and a bit of know how to get at my data...

~Jeff Hoogland

Ford said...

Chroot into your hdd as root, and then issue passwd command changing your root password. Then i can simply login as root, change your user password if I so desire and I'm done. You could encrypt the entire hdd... That might work.

Pétur said...

Ford, /etc/shadow has no connection to the encrypted home directory (I believe Jeff is referring to the one used on Ubuntu). The data is useless if you don't have the password to it.

Also, you don't need a liveCD\USB as most users don't set a password for GRUB (I have actually never seen anyone use it).

A much nicer way "Back-dooring Ubuntu":
1. Press and hold shift during boot, grub will appear.
2. Edit the kernel parameter, replace 'ro' with 'rw' and make 'init=/bin/bash'
3. use /sbin/ifconfig to enable networking
4. install openssh-server, make sure root logins are allowed
5. check for iptables, fix them if needed
6. enable the root user ('passwd root' is enough)
7. shutdown the machine

next time the victim is logged on, SSH to his machine as root..
You'll have full access to his home directory.

-Pétur Ingi Egilsson

Ford said...


True enough. I am a Slackware user, and an LFS user. I do not really use Ubuntu at all, but knowing there is no root account makes it a bit easier. If the machine is set for auto-login, most people wouldn't notice an added user account either, and especially so if they were never presented with a GDM login screen showing the other account.

Xyzzy said...

I heartily agree!

Based on my recent experience, Linux is also much better regarding even slightly-old hardware than Windows. Evidently Windows 7 not only lacks drivers for some mainstream components a couple of years old (including Intel motherboards with more than enough GHz/RAM to run it), it refuses to work with ones for XP/Vista & manufacturers can't be arsed to write new ones.

So after struggling to set up Mom's new-to-her system for a few hours, I tried PCLinuxOS & SimplyMEPIS live-discs. Both had perfect hardware detection without any effort on my part at all, and Mom's happily watching her shows on Hulu once more.

江婷 said...


Jens Staal said...

I also fall for the "news" about market share developments and find myself happy every time I see that Linux makes an impression in a particular market (HPC, servers, cloud, mobile etc).

Lately, I have however started to wonder whether linux desktop market share really is THAT important. A few years ago I thought so, and my rationalization then was that Linux needs a sizeable market to ensure that hardware is supported on Linux. If I look at the situation now, I would say that the hardware hurdle is moot. Stuff works great. There is nothing I can not do on Linux that I can do on a proprietary desktop operating system. I think the success of Linux should not be measured in market share - but rather in innovative new solutions and devices built on it.

Based on this, I would argue that the big fight at the moment is about standards (file formats, transfer protocols, codecs etc) and (in the countries where they apply) software patents. The hearts and minds of all competent geeks has already been won by Linux and other free *nix:es. How much would it really benefit the Linux communities to attract a huge number of "users" with no inclination or competence to help moving various OSS projects forward?

If I were Microsoft I would worry about this - a big reason for people to choose to run Windows has been that it is ubiquitous and that you always can count on free support from your friendly geek family member/friend/neighbour. How large a fraction of the population are geeks? I expect the ~1-3% Linux Desktop market share to represent a large proportion of this population.

However, apart from a few dirty market tricks made by Microsoft, such as enforced bundling of Windows from all major OEMs and corrupted standards, they are largely irrelevant for someone comfortable with Linux and the whole "microsoft bashing" and fear and hate surrounding this company sometimes feel juvenile and unproductive. Legacy windows support via Wine is improving rapidly nowadays so even if there are specific stuff that needs to be done on a proprietary program (mostly games, apparently) it has a big chance of working just fine.

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