Originally Published: Monday, 6 September 1999 Author: Robert F. Young
Published to: corp_features/General Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Sizing the Linux Market

Robert Young, CEO of Red Hat Software attempts to size the Linux populace using a variety of sources.

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Revised March 5, 1998 (originally published January 11, 1997)

Note to the revised edition: The interesting part of the new data is not its quantity but the changes in that data from the prior survey - from these it would appear that the use of the Linux OS is continuing to grow rapidly.

Also of special interest in this edition is the section on Datapro's "1997 International User Ratings Survey of UNIX and NT". Where the 1996 edition of this Datapro report barely mentioned Linux, this edition covers Linux use in detail.

Index to this paper:

  1. The Problem
  2. Use of This Paper
  3. Linux Use Data Sources We Did Not Use
    • Internet Based Registrations System
    • Linux CD-ROM sales.
    • FTP Downloads
    • RSA DES Challenge
  4. Data Sources We Have Used:
    • Linux Journal
    • Unix Review
    • iX Magazine
    • Dr. Dobbs Magazine
    • Sys Admin Magazine
  5. Datapro's "1997 International User Ratings Survey of UNIX and NT"
  6. Linux Users as a Percentage of UNIX Users
  7. Red Hat Software's Customer Data
  8. The Low and High Range of Linux users:
  9. Red Hat's Official March 1998 Estimate of Linux Users
  10. Sources

    1. The Problem

    The Linux Operating System has many advantages, particularly advantages related to the control it gives its users over their computing environments, but Linux does have one disadvantage: There is no way of knowing how many people might be using it.

    Not knowing how many users an operating system has causes many problems, especially for companies who work in the Linux market. For instance, companies cannot plan properly without knowing if they are dealing with thousands or millions of potentialcustomers. Red Hat Software addresses this problem. This paper is compiled by Red Hat Software for Red Hat's use. We are pleased to publish it for your use, but we make absolutely no assurances about its accuracy or usefulness for any purpose.

    Notice that the terms "Linux users" and "Linux machines" appear interchangeably because we estimate that for every computer that has more than one user, there is at least one user who is running more than one Linux machine. In fact, there may be either many more Linux users than machines or more Linux-based machines than users, we simply have no way of knowing.

    2. Use of This Paper

    This paper is our attempt to examine as much what is currently known about the size of the Linux market. Our information is based on estimates that are drawn from the most reliable sources that we can find. Having said that, it should be noted that these figures are estimates. If you feel that you have better data than that which is shown here, we'd be thrilled to hear it. You are welcome to use this paper for any purpose you see fit provided you:

    • Acknowledge Red Hat's contribution
    • Refer to the numbers found here as "estimates"
    • Include the date of this estimate as shown above

    3. Linux Use Data Sources We Did Not Use

    We originally collected this data for our own marketing purposes. Besides the sources of data we eventually chose, there are several others that are certainly valid and useful but did not meet our needs. This is not to be taken as any form of comment on the validity of that work, and if you wish to prepare your own estimates, you will want to choose from all available data.

    a. Internet-Based Linux Counters

    The most well known of these is the Linux Counter, a voluntary registration system managed by Harald Tveit Alvestrand. More information can be found at http://counter.li.org/

    b. Sales of Linux CD-ROMs

    While this does not give an answer itself, it does corroborate some of the other data we do use. Its strength is primarily that it indicates that there is a healthy and growing market for Linux products. The problem with this data is that we do not know if each CD-ROM is being used to install many Linux computers, or conversely if most CD-ROMS are being sold as updates to users who are already running Linux from a previous installation.

    Our estimates based on our research during the year was that US-based suppliers of Linux CD-Rom products sold 750,000 units in 1997. This compares to our estimate of 450,000 units sold in 1996.

    While US suppliers represented (in our opinion) the majority of the Linux products shipped during the year there were significant numbers of non-US-based CD-ROMs manufactured and sold in countries including Germany, Japan, France, the UK, Taiwan, and China.

    c. Downloads by FTP

    One of the great mysteries of Linux usage is that there is no way to know the number of Linux users who download the product by anonymous FTP. These users range from students and users in developing countries whose primary interest in Linux is its low cost to advanced engineering groups who prefer to download these tools to guarantee that they are using the very latest versions of all the tools and utilities. For example, off of Red Hat Software's FTP site alone, there were 100,000 copies of Linux downloaded in the last 12 months. These included 382 downloads (that we know of) to mirror sites. These sites allow further local anonymous downloads.

    d. Internet based RSA DES Challenge II

    In order to try to beat The RSA DES Challenge II, distributed.net is using computers' idle processing time all over the world. The statistics recording which OS the volunteers' computers were running are using is interesting if not very conclusive of anything. Thanks to John Winters for pointing this one out to us. More info can be had at:



    Win32 (95/NT)      111,788,489
    MacOS               	48,878,795
    Linux               	29,834,793
    Solaris             	21,619,282

    4. Data Sources We Have Used:

    Magazine Surveys

    Because of the problems of counting numbers of copies of Linux distributed as shown above, we chose instead to base our estimates on counting the number of Linux users against the number of UNIX users. While far from an exact science, the number of UNIX users has been tracked and estimated by more credible organizations using more sophisticated techniques than we are pretending to use.

    a. Linux Journal(s)

    While the rapid growth in the distribution and paid subscription of the Linux Journal over the last two years (see their web site at http://www.ssc.com) indicates a healthy growing user base for the Linux OS, its total circulation serves only as a minimum base number of users, in the US.

    • 1995: 10,000
    • 1996: 25,000
    • 1997: 45,000
    • 1998: 57,000
    Note the biggest growth in Linux magazine subscriptions is outside of the US. In 1997, no less than five (that we know of) monthly Linux magazines were founded in Japan, Poland, Germany, Yugoslavia, and the UK. b. UNIX Review, now Performance Computing Magazine

    (circulation 90,000+), a US-based Miller Freeman publication, acknowledged that in a late 1995 survey that 10% of their readers used Linux. In their 1997 survey, the percentage of Linux users was 26%.

    c. iX Magazine (circulation 35,000+), a leading German UNIX magazine, found in a recent 1996 survey that 34% of their readers used Linu x. Today they acknowledge that Linux is used by 45% of their readers, making it -the- most popular OS used by their readers.

    d. Sys Admin

    (circulation 25,000+), a Miller Freeman publication serving UNIX system administrators, found in a late 1996 survey that 21% of their readers were using Linux. Today the survey reveals that 34% of their readers use Linux.

    e. Dr. Dobbs

    (Circulation 155,000), is another Miller Freeman magazine with a large international readership. Dr. Dobbs hired Wilson Research Group of San Carlos CA, to conduct a significant survey of the UNIX OS usage among their readers and found that of those using UNIX, about 43% were using Linux.

    5. Datapro's "1997 International User Ratings Survey of UNIX and NT"

    Linux has jumped from being the 7th most commonly installed version of UNIX in the survey sample to being the 4th most commonly installed version of UNIX in just 12 months. Linux is, according to Datapro, trailing only Solaris, HP/UX, and IBM's AIX on a worldwide usage by "managers and directors of IS working for large organizations." In several major world markets, specifically Germany, Brazil, and Australia, Linux is installed as often if not more often than -any- other UNIX category OS in large enterprises.

    Their data indicates that NT is not making inroads into UNIX sites and that NT is popular as a replacement for Dos/Windows and Novell Netware installations.

    Linux rates first in overall satisfaction in Datapro's ratings survey of all the major UNIX OSes and NT. While this survey does show a rapid increase in the use of Linux in the corporate environment, 14% of all the sites surveyed used Linux, the survey is limited as a guide to the total numbers of Linux users. Linux use follows the PC model, where the users are making their own purchasing decisions. There has been little effort to date to sell Linux as an enterprise solution to the type of corporate managers surveyed here.

    For anyone interested in "Linux in the enterprise," Datapro's study is filled with fascinating facts, figures, and analyses. While pricey at $1,000 per copy, I recommend it for anyone looking for serious data on the commercial market of Linux products and services.

    6. Linux Users as a Percentage of UNIX Users

    For all the hype other OSes are receiving, UNIX use is still growing at a 10% annual rate, and the current UNIX industry figures are that there are 6,700,000 active UNIX users. Taking the above publications as representative of this industry, we come up with a population of Linux users of between 26% and 45% of the total of UNIX users, or between 1,742,000 and 3,015,000. This compares to last year's numbers of 600,000 and 2,000,000 respectively.

    Dr. Dobbs' survey (see above) is also very enlightening on this subject. 42.5% of their UNIX using readers responded that "they would be developing applications for Linux in the following 12 months" compared to 12.3% who said that they would be developing applications on SCO UNIX.

    However when the question was changed to inquire "which UNIX OS would you or your company purchase in the next 12 months," the percentage of Linux users fell to 34.9% and SCO buyers grew to 12.7%.

    This is evidence of the hidden usage phenomenon that understates the actual market share the Linux OS enjoys.

    7. Red Hat Software's Customer Data

    Our own experience selling and supporting Linux has highlighted an important fact that bears on the above numbers. It is our experience that the majority of our customers have not used UNIX previously. Last year our registration system survey indicated that 56.2% of Linux users had not previously used UNIX; conversely only 43.8% have had previous experience with UNIX. This year, the numbers showed (and yes we find this hard to believe ourselves) that 81% of those registering their Red Hat Linux products had not used UNIX, while 19% had.

    We are somewhat suspicious of the rapid change in this ratio and speculate that the change is a result of other factors, such as the fact that our UNIX-using customers are not registering their new copies of Red Hat Linux or that the UNIX-using customers do not need the free support that registration qualifies them for.

    So while we are willing to concede some growth to the ratio of non-UNIX users over UNIX users, we will use a 60/40 ratio for the purpose of our low estimates and a 70/30 ratio for the purposes of our high ratios.

    Non-UNIX users would have had no reason to read or subscribe to any of the UNIX magazines listed above. This would mean that the above estimates of Linux users among the total population of UNIX users are only 40% of the actual total.

    8. The Low and High Range of Linux users

    Total number of UNIX users using Linux plus the number of users represented by the ratio of non-UNIX users among Red Hat Software's customer base.
    Low estimates: 1,742,000 + 2,613,000 = 4,355,000
    High estimates: 3,015,000 + 7,035,000 = 10,050,000

    These numbers of course do not include the users who have downloaded Linux at no cost, and the Linux users in countries and markets with whom we do not currently have much contact.

    9. Red Hat's Official March 1998 Estimate of Linux Users

    In summary, based on the above methodology and our own rough feel for these numbers, we estimate, to within a margin of error of +/-25%, that there are between 5,000,000 and 10,500,000 active Linux users.

    It is interesting to compare this figure to our previous estimates of the numbers of Linux users. Comparing our new estimates to our old ones, we find that, in the last 12 months, the increase in the number of new Linux users is:

                    End of  1993    100,000
                    1994               500,000
                    1995            1,500,000
                    1996            3,500,000
                    March 98      7,500,000

    10. Sources and Disclaimer

    Our thanks to all these publications without whose support this paper would have been much less complete. All errors and misinterpretations are mine alone.

    You can find this document, and more about Red Hat, online at:

    Red Hat Software, Inc.: http://www.redhat.com

    Other References

    Linux Journal: http://www.ssc.com/
    Performance Computing (formerly UNIX Review): http://www.unixreview.com/
    iX Magazine: http://www.heise.de/ix/
    Sys Admin: http://www.samag.com/
    Dr. Dobbs: http://www.ddj.com/
    Datapro: http://www.datapro.com/

    Copyright 1998 Red Hat Software, Inc. Please send email to counting@redhat.com if you have any conflicting or corroborating data.

    Comments? Email the author of this piece.

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