Canonical Announces 12 Million Ubuntu Users, Google Makes a Comeback

by Ostatic Staff - Apr. 09, 2010

Lots of Ubuntu news this week with the second beta released for Lucid Lynx, a switch back to Google as the default search provider, and an announcement that Canonical estimates 12 million Ubuntu users around the world. But how do they get those numbers, and why the "flapping" between search providers?

It's notoriously difficult to do the counting up for distribution users. Red Hat and Novell can easily estimate the number of paid installs by doing the books every quarter, but how do the community distros measure things up when there's no way to track all the installs? The Fedora and openSUSE projects post their figures and give estimates on the number of users, but it's acknowledged that the numbers are wildly inaccurate and shouldn't be used for much more than speculation on how many users the distros might have.

While Fedora and openSUSE openly post the number of unique IPs that they see hitting the update servers, Canonical isn't as open with its figures. So I asked Canonical's Gerry Carr, how exactly are you getting these numbers?

According to Carr, pretty much the same way as everyone else -- by measuring the number of unique IPs hittingthe servers for security updates. Carr says they track the numbers as a trend and then boil down a number out of that. He noted that it's not an exact science, and that Canonical is sure that they have at least 12 million users, but it's probably higher than that.

Carr declined to break down the numbers into server and desktop installs, though he indicated that Canonical does track the split -- they just don't make the numbers public.

Canonical had also made some waves announcing that it would be switching default search providers from Google to Yahoo, but this week the company announced that it would be going back to Google and no real explanation offered. I also asked Carr about the switch, but he declined to give a reason for the switch. My guess would be that Google made a better offer on search revenue, but we don't know.

It would be nice to have a bit more transparency from Canonical on these things. Other community focused distros publish the raw numbers and let their contributors (and yes, competitors) know what's going on. Decisions about defaults are made (not just announced) in the open, even if the process isn't democratic. I don't have a complaint with the numbers cited by Canonical -- they're probably underestimatig, if anything. I don't have a beef with switching default search providers -- it's easy enough to switch back to Google (or Yahoo). But it'd be nice if the decison making was a bit more transparent from one of the leading community distros.