LinuxQuestions' Members Choice Awards

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Feb 08, 2015 GMT
Bruce Byfield

Every year, I rely on LinuxQuestions' Members Choice Awards for a snapshot of the habits of part of the Linux community. True, the results can be idiosyncratic -- for example, I doubt that users in general would continually vote Slackware the distribution of the year. However, aside from Linux Journals' Reader Choice Awards, LinuxQuestion's poll is almost the only indicator available.

Assuming that the The 2014 awards are even remotely representative, little has changed since last year. The great upheavals on the desktops have quieted down, and users seem well set in their ways, to the point that oligarchies or near-monopolies seem more common than the diversity than many pride free software upon.
Best Distribution
Aside from Slackware's consistent showing, nothing on the desktop is likely to surprise anyone who watches the community with even half an eye. The other most popular desktops were Ubuntu and Linux Mint, just as might have been guessed from the page rankings on Distrowatch.

After the top three, the results are just as predictable. The next most popular is Debian with just under 10%, followed by Crunchbang at 5% and Arch and Fedora at 4.5%. However, as the upstream source for four out of five of the most popular distributions, Debian technology is responsible for some 57% of the distributions in use, while the seven most popular distributions have almost two-thirds of the votes

At .5-3% apiece are most of the usual suspects -- for instance, arch, Mageia, and Gentoo -- as well as a scattering of newer distributions that innovate at the desktop, such as elementaryOS and Deepin. The only surprising omission at this level is openSUSE.

Best Desktop Environment
Give or take a couple of percentage points, this category is little changed since last year. KDE at 34% tops the list, followed by Xfce at 26%. GNOME Shell is a distance third at 11% -- or else, if you assume a margin of error, roughly tied with Cinnamon and MATE, as might be expected from the Best Distribution category.

However, a cross-comparison indicates about 18% of Linux Mint's 22% users stick to Cinnamon or MATE. By contrast, while Ubuntu itself managed 22% of the vote, Unity, Ubuntu's desktop environment, remained stalled at 5-6% -- a major rebuke to all the care lavished on it during the last five years. With the Ubuntu phone due to launch soon, and perhaps an Ubuntu tablet by the end of the year, it will be interesting to see next year if Unity manages to become more popular.

Diversity or Oligarchy
Free software users often take pride in the diversity of applications available. However, while most categories list at least half a dozen applications, in many categories the diversity seems more token than real.

In some categories, popularity naturally follow the distribution and desktop environment. For example, KDE's Dolphin and Xfce's Thunar top the list of file managers, and KDE's Konsole the list of virtual terminals.

In other categories, one or two selections dominate the category, with the rest trailing far behind. Firefox itself tops browsers with 57%, a figure that rises to 62% if the renamed IceWeasel is added to it. Similarly, Git leads revision control with 72%, and LibreOffice office suites with 86%.

In fact, some of the most interesting observations are how far one application has climbed ahead of another that was once a rival. MariadB and MySQL are still equal, but Firefox has three times the votes of Chrome and Chromium combined. Meanwhile, LibreOffice's 86% completely outstrips Apache OpenOffice's 8.5%. Similarly, vi and Vim's 37% are four times as popular as Emacs, which suggests that the long-time rivalry is over.

If you accept these figures, then free software still has plenty of diversity, but, for practical purposes, that diversity seems to be declining. Fortunately, though, in free software, neither popularity nor funding necessarily determine whether applications survive, which is just as well -- personally, I would hate to see Calligra Suite be overwhelmed by LibreOffice, or Krita by the better-known GIMP.

How well LinuxQuestion's results reflect the preferences of the entire community is anybody's guess. As a result, some people might prefer to ignore them entirely. However, while anomalies are clearly among them, many results are in keeping with my own informal observations. For that reason, I am inclined to trust them as general indicators. Still, I have rounded figures up to avoid creating a false impression of precision, and I would hesitate to make any argument based on one or two percent differences in the voting.

With these reservations, I would say that the most visible aspects of free software are currently static. That doesn't mean that changes aren't happening -- Systemd and Wayland come to mind, after all -- just that the largest ones are at the operating system level rather than the desktop, and do not register in such polls.

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