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The 1% Solution

Word's been flying around all weekend about Linux finally breaking 1% consumer market share, up from 0.8% as of June last year. Red herring or milestone?

Word's been flying around all weekend about Linux finally breaking 1% consumer market share, up from 0.8% as of June last year. Red herring or milestone?

I try to be skeptical about what claims like this mean, and for Linux's own sake. For one, it doesn't actually correlate to end-user desktops running Linux: it simply means that number of Internet client machines tabulated in the above poll reported themselves as running Linux. The breakdown reflects Windows and Mac marketshare, as you might expect -- but also iPhone and iPod Touch (interesting that Apple gets three separate breakouts), Java ME, and the all-inclusive "other".

What's paradoxical and funny is that tabulating by web client reportage may actually be more accurate over time, not less, as more people turn to the web to do everything from get their mail to perform word processing to update Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and (insert name of social networking site here). At some point I'm sure there will be a saturation level: what percentage of people need more than the absolute basics that, say, a netbook or smartphone can provide?

Thing is, I don't know that there's any way to anticipate what such usage will actually shape up to be until we're there. Right along with the "Linux at 1%" buzz is the "Netbooks may be a bubble" buzz -- speculation that once the economy picks up again, netbooks will be declassé. That, I reject: I don't know anyone who would turn down a decently-powered computer that has Internet connectivity and only runs about $250; even in good times, there are always people looking to save money, or just only buy what they need.

The whole question of Linux market penetration, the more I think about it, is really another question in disguise: the bigger question of Linux's validation in the public eye. If it's good enough for the other guy, then it's good enough for me, too -- or so goes the psychology for this sort of thing as so capably put by Alan Kay. The bigger the validation, the more people using it, the more feedback, the more contribution, etc., etc.

But the variety of validation and feedback you get from the guy on the street is completely different from what you get in the largely insular environments that Linux has thrived in. If Linux does start going from 1% to 2%, 5% and beyond, then people "on the inside" had better be prepared for what comes next.


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