Mac Musings

Is OS X the Unknown OS?

Dan Knight - 2002.01.12 - Tip Jar

It's been a mystery: Why in the world hasn't Mac OS X been showing up in our server logs? We have listings for Macintosh PowerPC, Macintosh 68K, and Unknown Macintosh, as well as 8 flavors of Unix, but OS X has been conspicuously absent.

Here's the quick breakdown from September 2000 through January 11, 2002. Data is pages served. The *nix spike in December came from Linux Lies, an article that disbelieved the WebSideStory claim that Linux accounts for only 0.24% of all Web traffic.

 Month     Mac      Win     *nix      ??? 
2000.09   49.35%   42.76%   2.37%    5.04%
2000.10   49.16%   42.31%   2.41%    6.05%
2000.11   50.22%   42.76%   2.08%    4.59%
2000.12   51.56%   42.40%   1.92%    3.71%
2001.01   51.36%   42.63%   2.17%    3.52%
2001.02   53.88%   40.46%   2.03%    3.36%
2001.03   52.49%   42.40%   1.99%    2.83%
2001.04   50.60%   43.25%   1.95%    3.83%
2001.05   49.54%   44.66%   2.03%    3.53%
2001.06   48.85%   44.25%   2.13%    4.56%
2001.07   50.68%   43.47%   2.20%    3.42%
2001.08   48.39%   44.18%   2.18%    5.05%
2001.09   48.96%   44.24%   2.12%    4.51%
2001.10   45.17%   46.26%   2.33%    6.07%
2001.11   47.79%   44.70%   2.00%    5.35%
2001.12   44.63%   40.04%   3.09%   12.09%
2002.01   43.47%   38.38%   1.98%   15.98%

"OS unknown" specifically excludes WebTV, OS/2, Amiga, BeOS, RISC OS, and the known *nix variants (Linux, SunOS, IRIX, BSD, etc.). "OS unknown" may include spiders, but the incredible growth from about 3-4% last summer to over 12% in December and over 15% so far this month leads me to believe that I've found the OS X users. And that percentage has been increasing every day this week, eclipsing Windows as the #2 operating system some days.

Windows has remained pretty consistent in the 42-45% range until the last couple months, and all the Unix variants come in at close to 2% month after month, but the Mac column shows less and less visitors using Macs - while "OS unknown" has grown by leaps and bounds. Could that be where OS X is showing up?

Some significant dates:

  • September 13, 2000. Mac OS X Public Beta ships. "Unknown" traffic jumps from 5% in September to 6% in October as Mac users test the beta - then falls off as they discover that the beta is far from ready for prime time.
  • March 24, 2001. Mac OS X 10.0 ships. "Unknown" traffic was at a low point of 2.8% in March, but grew to 3.8% in April - and has grown in spurts since then.
  • June 21, 2001. Update 10.0.4 released, creating a very solid distribution until 10.1 is ready to ship.
  • September 25, 2001. Mac OS X 10.1 update available, considered by many the first really viable version of X. "Unknown" traffic jumps from 4.5% in September to 6.1% in October, falls a bit in November, zooms to 12.1% in December, and climbs past 15% in January 2002.
  • November 30, 2001. Low End Mac launches 10 Forward, where users get the opportunity to share their stories of migrating to OS X 10.1 (and later).

Of course, we had "OS unknown" traffic before the Public Beta, so we have to assume that while most of that traffic may be OS X today, some of the traffic isn't. As a ballpark figure, let's say that it averages 2.5% of our total traffic, marking March 2001 as the month almost nobody visited Low End Mac using OS X. (This is just a ballpark figure, but it's all we have.)

Based on this assumption, we've created the following table. What had been the "Mac" column is marked as being just for the classic Mac OS, and the next column shows the presumed percentage of site visitors using X (after subtracting 2.5% from "OS unknown"). The next column shows the total Mac percentage, which has only dropped below the 50% mark once.

Month    classic   OS X     Macs    OS X %
2000.09   49.35%    2.54%   51.89%    4.9%  Beta
2000.10   49.16%    3.55%   52.71%    6.7%
2000.11   50.22%    2.09%   52.31%    4.0%
2000.12   51.56%    1.21%   52.77%    2.3%
2001.01   51.36%    1.02%   52.38%    1.9%
2001.02   53.88%    0.86%   54.74%    1.6%
2001.03   52.49%    0.43%   52.82%    0.6%  10.0
2001.04   50.60%    1.33%   51.93%    2.6%
2001.05   49.54%    1.03%   50.57%    2.0%
2001.06   48.85%    2.06%   50.91%    4.0%  10.0.4
2001.07   50.68%    0.92%   51.60%    1.8%
2001.08   48.39%    2.55%   50.94%    5.5%
2001.09   48.96%    2.01%   50.97%    3.9%  10.1
2001.10   45.17%    3.57%   48.74%    7.3%
2001.11   47.79%    2.85%   50.64%    5.6%
2001.12   44.63%    9.59%   54.22%   17.7%  10.1.2
2002.01   43.99%   13.48%   56.95%   23.7%  default

The fifth column is the percentage of Mac users running OS X when they visit Low End Mac, based on the assumptions mentioned above. The pattern has been a spurt as each revision is released, followed by a decline as users discovered that OS X wasn't yet ready to displace OS 9.

But something changed in August - with no major update to X, people were trying it in droves. I'd guess that was because in July Steve Jobs had promised that 10.1 would be ready in September, and these users wanted to gain some familiarity with the new OS. That dropped in September, but 10.1 was released at the end of the month and X usage jumped again in October.

Based on response to 10.1, we began 10 Forward at the end of November, which might draw more X users to the site. Low End Mac has always viewed OS X as a good thing and the inevitable evolution of the Mac OS, while at the same time recommending sense and caution in migrating. Now that the OS is much more complete and more crucial applications are available to run native under X, it's time to seriously ask the question, "Is now the time to migrate to OS X?"

Our figures are estimates, but if our assumptions are in the ballpark, it looks like OS X has moved past the early adopter stage (usually defined as less than 10% of the market). Users are impressed with 10.1.2, Microsoft Office v.X, and other ported and newly written X-ware. Could one in four Mac users visiting our site be using X? If so, Steve Jobs was absolutely right in making X the new default OS.

We'll need to determine why OS X is showing up as "OS unknown." It's inconceivable that OS X browsers aren't identifying themselves, so it's more likely that the version of Analog (4.16) simply doesn't recognize X. I'll ask our host to look into that and also poll some other Mac webmasters about their percentage of OS X visitors.

But we seem to have found out that OS X users are visiting Low End Mac regularly - and the percentage of users on Macs isn't under 50%.

Mystery solved?

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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