Home > Fedora, GNU/Linux, linux, Linux, Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Unity, Xubuntu > Lies, damned lies and statistics

Lies, damned lies and statistics

November 25, 2011

After awakening from a Thanksgiving-induced food coma — actually, it wasn’t that bad — most of the daily articles about Linux posted this morning by our friends in Mountain View known as Google revolved around the fact that Ubuntu is dropping like a lead zeppelin in the Distrowatch standings, while Linux Mint is surging.

Ireland 1, Isle of Man 0.

There is no surprise here, at least on Linux Mint’s part. Plus, I think it’s interesting to see how that Unity thing is working out for Ubuntu, and as I’ve said before, I’d venture to say “not very well” (which is why, as a frequent Xubuntu user, I fight the urge to be smug).

All that has been written recently about this issue would normally be interesting except for a couple of unmentioned, and glaring, caveats missing from the stories by those who are ringing Ubuntu’s death knell.

First, Distrowatch numbers are based on page visits, not downloads. Show me the downloads, and then let’s talk. Web page hits don’t tell me if people are actually downloading a particular distro and using it, or if they’re just looking at the pages for whatever reason they might. Page visits might translate into distro downloads, but they also might be visits to forums, wikis, etc., as well. So I’m not convinced this is a valid measurement.

Second, even if you were to use Distrowatch’s page-view metric as your yardstick, you’d still have to take into account that a distro’s recent new version release — Linux Mint and Fedora, while always both close to the top at Distrowatch, qualify here — gets an extra bounce in views by virtue of the fact that, well, these distros have released a new version. An increase in visits from curious folks doesn’t necessarily mean more downloads and subsequently more distro use.

In talking to others and in taking a look at the FOSS landscape lately, my sense is that the numbers for Linux Mint reflect a rising interest that is translating into new users and new community members, whether they’re refugees from Ubuntu, they’re coming over from other distros or just brand new “walk-ins” using Linux for the first time. After all, Linux Mint has done a huge service to FOSS by developing the Mint GNOME Shell Extensions (MGSE) and MATE, and for that reason perhaps people are joining the ranks of the Minted. Couple that with the recent edict of Unity uber alles handed down by Ubuntu SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth, and you have the recipe for a rise in Linux Mint at the expense of Ubuntu.

But I’d rather have more accurate data to back this up.

Show me the downloads.

*SABDFL — Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, a moniker picked up from a recent blog item by Steven Rosenberg. Thanks, Steven.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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Eliminate DRM!

  1. Harvey Kelly
    November 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Exactly what I thought too. Plus Debian is probably getting a bit of Ubuntu-overspill too – those wanting Gnome 2.3x need look no further etc.

  2. Jef Spaleta
    November 25, 2011 at 1:39 pm


    1) What is happening with Mint on distrowatch is not typical, not even for a release week bump.
    This is not normal.
    2) What is happening with Mint on distrowatch is not being mimicked in google trends. It both “interest” trends aren’t capturing it then it is extremely difficult to build an interpretation that makes sense.

    I would humbly submit to you that everything you see in distrowatch is normally dominated by each distributions release week interest bump. Case in point Commodore linux had a new release, and had a blurp on the mainpage at distrowatch a week or so ago. And as a result their distro page got enough hits to actually bump Ubuntu down to 5th place in the rankings for a few days. That’s just crazy right…. Commodore linux 5th place in the 7 day average “interest” metric for 2 days running. Crazy. And says something very significant about distrowatch being representative of global trends.

    And then look at Ubuntu itself. Generally speaking U. does a very good job release after release of generating release week buzz. This shows up in the distrowatch 7 day average metric AND in the google trends data as well.. The release week bump in google trends is relatively large compared to baseline (where baseline is taken at the 3 month mark halfway between releases).
    And in fact, I can argue doing some fancy signal analysis that in the google trends data at least the release week trend has been consistent every release and that there really is a separate long term decline (fft suggests 13 month timescale in the long term trend). I can’t tell you what is causing that decline, but I can definitely argue that release week interest is holding very steady and very strong. I can also say that the decline has not accelerated in the last couple of months. No sharp fall, its been a pretty consistent curve for the fall off since Ubuntu peaked a couple of years ago.

    But back to distrowatch… because of the way distrowatch averages…the release week spike typically dominates all the 3month+ timescales that distrowatch chooses to display (the 6 month is the default display..and its a crock of poop). The way distrowatch does averaging is very misleading and hides details of short term interest versus long term interest. Ubuntu’s consistent high release week interest dominates that average. And the average is too damn short to capture the slow 13 month dominate decline google trends captures. Isn’t that cool? You start seeing the decline though if you take the yearly averages and put them on a graph. But man, what laypress writer is going to go and punch numbers into a spreadsheet…that’s actually work.

    Back to google trends…. Where’s mint?
    Watch that graph especially the last 12 months. There _is_ a bump in the last month. And its a _new_ bump, not something mimicked in previous Mint release timescales. Suggestive that Mint has in fact reached critical mass of some sort. if you really want to understand what is happening, it will be vital to watch the google trend of “mint linux” over the next couple of months. And again there’s no evidence to suggest Ubuntu took a hit because of uptick in Mint interest in the google trends view. Unlike the rise of Android when it screamed into the greenfield market of tablets. Is Mint google trending a spike or is it a new long term trend vector? Distrowatch by itself is not going to tell you jack. But google trends and distrowatch 7-day trending will if they represent consistent pictures.

  3. Bill
    November 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I fell in love with Linux because of Ubuntu. But I can’t work with Unity. There are too many missing features and awkward interface designs. I gave Mark 2 releases to get it usable. It’s not. Goodbye Ubuntu, it was a great 5 years!

    Fedora w/ GNOME 3 isn’t much better.

    Linux Mint with MGSE is so so close to right. Definitely good enough for daily use. They took GNOME 3 and made it usable.

    @FedoraDevs, join in with Mint and integrate Gnome Shell Extensions into Fedora. Throw some more manpower at making GSE complete.

    • November 27, 2011 at 8:43 am

      @Bill that’s exactly right. I think what the Mint guys are going is a step in the right direction and I’d love to see their work get folded into the GNOME mainline.

      For the time being I’m an Xfce user, but if Mint’s code went mainline it would probably be enough to get me to switch back to GNOME.

  4. November 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    There is an old saying. 50% of your advertising budget is wasted. The problem is you don’t know which 50%. Those numbers mean something. The problem is knowing exactly what they mean. The same holds true for the Distrowatch numbers. The mean something. The question is exactly what.

    We know that Ubuntu has been the top Distrowatch and at Google for the past 5 years. Ubuntu aslo tells us they are the number one downloaded distro. The thing is, since Ubuntu does not track unique installs they have no way to know for sure how many installs are out there. About the best they can do is figure out how heavy their repos are being pounded for a particular package. Then extrapolate from that what percentage of installs don’t update. Ubuntu are not sharing those numbers with us.

    Another question is what do you consider Ubuntu to be? Are we talking the flagship Gnome OS known as Ubuntu. Or are we talking about Ubuntu + Kubuntu + Xubuntu + Lubuntu? I think by the first measure we can see that Ubuntu is clearly shrinking and losing mindshare. Unity is currently hurting Ubuntu. Since they are planning on spending the next two years using their community as a test bed for phone + tablet devices and will be integrating Wayland in at the same time, I think their problems are far from over.

    If we are talking about all the *buntu’s put together. Overall they are doing pretty good. The total number of *buntu users dwarf the total Mint or Fedora variant users.

    Still I think it is safe to say Mint is sucking all of the oxygen out of the air with MGSE and giving Ubuntu a slap in the face by skipping Unity. At that point, if Unity is a better interface, people would be leaving Mint in droves. They are not. While those that are leaving Ubuntu for Kubuntu/Xubunut/Mint/Debian/Arch are more than the normal 1% of complainers who grouse whenever anything changes. Too many people are actually leaving Ubuntu and although you will find Ubuntu users who *love* Unity. What you won’t find is people leaving Fedora or Debian to be able to run Unity. That is probably the most telling fact of all.

  5. pg
    November 25, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Distrowatch is a tinny metric.
    Google trends…. are point trends.

    Get the facts

    – 100 000 daily page views / stable
    – 500 000 searchable pages in google / in the rise

    – 100 000 000 daily page views / stable
    – 6 400 000 searchable pages in google / in the rise

    daily page vews – jul 2010 to oct 2011
    searchable pages in google – mar 2010 to oct 2011


    • gauthierAnon
      November 28, 2011 at 6:29 am

      1 000 000 page views for Ubuntu, not a hundred million.

  6. Ron
    November 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you, thank you. I’ve been annoyed at all the ridiculous blogging that has been going on ever since Mint passed Ubuntu on Distrowatch. It’s good to see someone using some common sense to write about what it “doesn’t” mean.

    I also find it interesting that Mint is based on Ubuntu (yes, I know about LMDE too). For all the smug Mint users out there who are mistakenly cheering about Ubuntu’s “apparent demise”, you might want to think twice about that. 😉

  7. Jef Spaleta
    November 25, 2011 at 7:53 pm


    Fedora already packages some gnome extensions. There’s no reason to think that Mint’s extensions would be excluded from Fedora if people do the work to package them and submit them for inclusion. As long as they don’t require patching of gnome components or gtk and are pure extensions of shell then they won’t run afoul of any serious complications. People just have to want it enough to do the packaging work.

    However, soon there might not be a need for distro specific packaging for gnome shell extensions at all. Gnome is working on an upstream website solution for housing and finding extensionn, in the vein of mozilla’s add-on paradigm. I’m pretty sure we’ll see a version of gnome’s extension site surface by the end of the calendar year.


  8. kaddy
    November 25, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    While it is true that distrowatch hits does not determine how many people are using Mint vs Ubuntu… There is no doubt that Linux mint downloads have increased significantly… clem records a 40% increase in a single month recently since Ubuntu 11.10 came out… There are alot of users leaving Ubuntu for Mint… That is a fact. But even if we had download figures from Ubuntu and Mint that still wouldn’t mean anything because alot of people including myself download new distros as they come out just to test out, review or play with in Virtualbox… It doesn’t mean all those users are actually installing the iso’s on their computer and using it as their main system.

    So both sides of the debate of how to get an accurate figure is nonesense…

    So the question is…. How do you find out how many Ubuntu users there are vs Mint users? that is very difficult… even a built in tool to ping a server for figure counts would not be accurate due to my points above….

    • Jef Spaleta
      November 26, 2011 at 12:06 am

      The _real_ question is can Mint Linux build a sustainable project and bring in enough revenue to pay for the work necessary to support their growing userbase. A huge growth in userbase is not necessarily a good thing as it comes with high demands on the core developers. The userbase size itself isn’t what is important..what is important is finding a way to _sustain_ a project through both userbase growth and retraction.

      Debian as a volunteer project has reached a sustainable growth pattern.

      Red Hat has found a way to build a business to sustain the duality of RHEL and Fedora.

      Canonical has not yet found a sustainable path for Ubuntu.

      If Mint continues to rely heavily on Ubuntu, they’ve put themselves into a very difficult position because of that fact.if Mint can completely move to Debian as an upstream and can find a revenue model that sustains their own downstream work.. they could survive in the long haul.


  9. axel668
    November 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    That’s real funny, when Ubuntu was No. 1 you Ubuntu guys had no issues with how Distrowatch do their statistics … looks like Ubuntu fanbois have advanced to stage 2 – Denial 😉

    • haha
      November 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm

      Well said!

    • LuxPro
      November 28, 2011 at 4:04 am

      But I thought “Mint is Ubuntu is Debian.”

  10. ShivShakti
    November 26, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Enjoyed the intelligent article & debate here, thanks all.

    Counting daily page hits etc is a useful ballpark figure but I believe it doesn’t tell the whole story, e.g. if a distro installs and works painlessly, perhaps it gets fewer hits because of less trouble shooting and griping? I’m sure someone has done the math on that somewhere. As a unity refugee, I built my own Debian system but referred to a lot of Ubuntu and even Arch pages on how to set things up, again throwing the statistics.

    Incidentally, my system sucked badly so I installed Crunchbang, stripped it back and built on that instead. That was much better but still problematic. Then, finally, I installed Archbang, stripped it back, built upon that and now have the best-most-perfect system for me, on my old dreadnaught of a Dell 1721 laptop. Thanks to Unity, I got off my backside and did something constructive and learned loads more in the process – so after having been niche-comfortable with Ubuntu since Breezy, evolution finally caught up with me. My wife on the other hand is still stuck with Lucid/10.04 LTS which in my opinion was the best ever vanilla Ubuntu. I truly fear the day when I have to change it to something else for her – Hell hath no fury than a change in mouse clicks.


  11. jsp722
    November 26, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Arguably many or even most people using Linux are not even aware of Distrowach, which would make its statistics less relevant if what one wants to know is user share.

    Distrowatch would rather be an assessment of geeks’ interest — and one of Ubuntu contributions has been precisely to bring Linux outside geeks’ universe.

  12. haha
    November 26, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Ubuntu is done!
    No matter how much Canonical-sponsored writers try to revive it.
    UNITY killed UBUNTU.
    I wonder what the Bantu word for UNITY is?
    Why did they not use that?

    • jsp722
      November 26, 2011 at 1:47 pm

      Hummm… Unity is for you something bad, and therefore, according to you, it should be called by a Bantu word, no by an English word, right?

      If so, this fact suggests that much of the hatred against Ubuntu is actually inspired by anti-Black racism and hatred.

      Remember the attacks against Ubuntu brownish theme? They were very much in line with the feelings expressed by you.

      But since, according to science, Humanity (which incidentally is the meaning of ‘Ubuntu’) came from Africa, even the most sociopathic and schizophrenic racist has a lot of Africa in their DNA.

      • haha
        November 28, 2011 at 1:39 pm

        You should ask Mr.Shuttleworth that …
        Why did he not use an Swahili word for UNITY?

        This is why ……
        He just wants to commercialize Ubuntu and he can do that with a widely recognizable English name.

        It is strange people launch off into tirades about racism at the smallest chance.

  13. uqbar
    November 26, 2011 at 9:52 am

    You can’t necessarily go by download either. I downloaded Mint and installed it in VirtualBox just to try it out, but I still run Ubuntu on all my systems. I thought Mint was OK, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. My Nebook runs Unity (very good fit for Netbook), but my desktop is still at Ubuntu 10.04. I’m still not entirely comfortable with Unity on the desktop, but a lot of the things I don’t like are being addressed. Unity on the Netbook, however, is very nice – makes excellent use of screen real estate and gives me eveything I need.

  14. tony
    November 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

    as haha said. UNITY killed UBUNTU.
    it has for me and everyone else I know personally, we hate unity.
    just like when KDE forced widget stupidity on me with KDE4 i left, switched to gnome (ubuntu) now ubuntu pulled the same crap KDE did with unity, I went mint.

    I am not the only one who has left ubuntu cause of unity.

  15. macias
    November 26, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    So when the Ubuntu was #1, everything was fine, but when it dropped all of the sudden the metrics are evil, times unfortunate, and this is so damn important that you had to post a rambling on the issue. WOW, before I was blind, but now I see.

    My advice: you need life, it won’t come on CD so start working on it.

    • November 26, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      Are you responding to me, macias, or someone else? If it’s to me, it’s clear you don’t read this blog often, and that’s OK. No one has ever called me an Ubuntu advocate, at least not without it being followed by hilarious laughter.

      In case you missed it, the point of this blog is that too many people are basing their articles on what I think is faulty data — Jef Spaleta, someone else who is rarely mistaken for an Ubuntu fanboi, makes the point better than I do in his comment above. So before I get a life — another one, if you really care — perhaps you should read the blog item again, a little more slowly this time for comprehension.

  16. haha
    November 26, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    What I find amusing is that the distrowatch figures that were looked upon as valid/dependable figures when Ubuntu was #1 are being questioned when Ubuntu dropped from the pedestal.

    • jsp722
      November 26, 2011 at 6:08 pm

      Distrowatch figures were indeed valid and dependable until and up to Ubuntu, because Linux users were mostly Distrowatch fanatic geeks.

      With Ubuntu, and thanks to it, many if not most Linux users are nowadays people who never heard about… Distrowhat?

      Therefore, Distrowatch figures are certainly less relevant today, unless if one wants to assess the narrow geek universe.

      • haha
        November 28, 2011 at 11:27 am

        What logic!
        You should be heading the UNITY team!

  17. November 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Me personally, I much more like the fact that Mageia is at #11 at the moment. Much ahead of those like Chakra, Sabayon, Bodhi, Pardus.

  18. jsp722
    November 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Unity is way superior to Gnome Shell.

    Whether Unity is African or not, and whether its critics are racially motivated or not, the fact is that it has application launchers and a taskbar directly accessible from the desktop. Multitask is possible, which is not the case with Gnome Shell.

    Gnome Shell is so preposterously anti-functional that the only thing which is available on the desktop is precisely what one less needs: a shortcut to the window which is already open anyway!

    Gnome Shell might be adequate to someone suffering from some serious attention disorder syndrom, not for any normal user.

    And patches like Linux Mint MGSE just manage to add a taskbar, something even the most basic graphic desktops such as JWM offer, but still no application launcher. What a great achievement!

    Add to this the utter lack of configurability of Gnome Shell, and it’s clear that Ubuntu did well trashing it.

    The extraordinary interest for Linux Mint in the last 6 months derived from its conservative approach, keeping Gnome2 longer than other distros, not from very recent MGSE, except maybe for a momentary spark of curiosity about the Mint patch.

    And just in case anyone is interested, I am neither a Ubuntu nor a Unity user: I use LMDE (Debian based) with LXDE, and thus could not care less about the Gnome mess.

    • haha
      November 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm

      Yeah, UNITY is how interfaces should be ….
      ha ha

  19. November 27, 2011 at 8:38 am

    There’s a saying that’s common in the marketing world: “Perception Is Reality.” It doesn’t matter what the current numbers are at this moment in time; Ubuntu and its awful Unity interface have already been tried, convicted, and executed in the court of public opinion. The Linux world has already rejected Unity, so it’s high time that Spaceman Mark removed the Unity albatross from around Ubuntu’s neck before the whole thing becomes little more than a footnote in the annals of open source history.

    • jsp722
      November 27, 2011 at 4:29 pm

      Perception by whom?

      For sure precisely by those whose perception are not important for Ubuntu at all.

      The Linux world is not necessarily what Distrowatch-maniac geeks believe it is.

      And since normal users accept what is usable and reject what is unusable, odds are that Unity survives and flourishes, while Gnome Shell becomes the favorite of some obscure maniacs, some of them driven by their racist schizoid, and sociopathic preconceptions.

  20. November 27, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    The Colonel has three good and true friends in the Linux sphere:
    Larry the Free Software Guy who seems to be a Fedora user
    and who dabbles in other distros. machiner, out in Mass.
    this dude owns Debian, seriously a wizard with Debian.
    Then there is Madams9 here in GNU Mexico who uses Mageia.
    And me? Mint. We are friends because of Linux not distros.

    My response to all of the above is: So What? Use what you want.
    If Mint does not leave me feeling refreshed I shall move on to a
    distro that works for me. If LtFSG starts to use a different distro
    he will still be LtFSG. I am not the distro I use and neither are you.

    Peace, Bob (DBA Colonel Panik)

  21. James Adamski
    November 28, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I have personally said goodby to Ubuntu. I was once a avid Ubuntu user helping on the forums, and a person who recommended Ubuntu to all the people I would talk to about Linux. Both friends and at work. I personally installed it on over 400 machines for my church group and its schools since I installed 6.06 Dapper Drake long ago.

    What am I running now and recommending? Mint! Why you may ask, well a few reasons.
    1. Unity – imho its the worst piece of code since Windows Bob! Gnome 3 isnt much better, but at least Mint is adding things to make that almost usable.
    2. The Ubuntu Forums – They are ruining what little good name Ubuntu has. The people that are in charge have been there to long because they have started ruling it like tyrants. Its now possible to be banned for speaking out against Unity. Its called Unity trolling.
    The mods are scaring old experienced users into quitting. The Resolution center, which is supposed to be a place to hash out problems is now a place people are harassed and told to shut up. Who is watching the store? The mods who harass the posters. See they are also members of the forum council.

    These are just 2 problems, but they are huge problems for an open source distro. Why? Because the old users who are leaving with over 1000 posts are the most knowledgeable people. The ones who help the new users. Once they abandon the project good luck getting them to come back.

  1. November 25, 2011 at 10:36 pm
  2. November 26, 2011 at 10:44 am
  3. November 28, 2011 at 5:24 am
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