Is Linux Mint Really Eating Ubuntu's Lunch?

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 10, 2012

Because of the way many Linux distributions make their way into the wild unfettered by commercial overlords, it's sometimes hard to draw a precise bead on who is using what flavor of Linux. In the world of commercial operating systems, by contrast, it's easy as pie to identify Microsoft Windows and Mac OS as the most widely used platforms.

Recently, there has been a lot of hubbub about Linux Mint becoming the new Ubuntu, with many people citing the Unity interface as the reason for an exodus from Ubuntu. Is there really an Ubuntu exodus?

Lots of people are claiming that Mint is the new Ubuntu, poised to become the top-of-mind Linux distribution that the masses think of first whenever the word Linux is mentioned. But how popular Mint really is depends on whose numbers you trust.

DistroWatch is often cited as a source for how many users are on various Linux distributions, but it's worth remembering that DistroWatch's numbers are based on hits to its web pages. In December of last year, that metric did show Linux Mint users strongly outnumbering Ubuntu users. However, ZDNet notes that there is a better metric:

"By contrast, the Wikimedia Traffic Analysis Report - Operating Systems shows that in October 2011 there were 16,924,000 hits on Wikimedia pages from computers running Ubuntu and 556,000 hits from those running Linux Mint (Wikimedia notes that due to server outages these numbers are approximately 7 percent too low). By December 2011 these figures had risen to 29,432,000 and 642,000 respectively."

Wow, that's a big difference in number of users between Ubuntu and Mint, with Ubuntu way out in front. And, while nobody's Linux distro usage numbers are perfect, the WikiMedia numbers are believable. For one thing, Ubuntu has been an entrenched and popular distribution for many years--an advantage that doesn't fade over night.

Distro usage is a moving target, though. In an informal poll late last year, Susan noted that most visitors to her site were using Ubuntu, but Mint usage was so close that the two platforms were basically tied for popularity. And, Mint has a lot of momentum in the press. We'll see, in 2012, how these two leading Linux distributions fare. Just make sure to take everyone's numbers with a grain of salt.