Mac Musings

Linux Lies

Daniel Knight - 2001.12.19

Whether is was Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli who coined the phrase, the time has come to talk of "lies, damned lies, and statistics" once again.

I first saw the headline on MacCentral: Linux desktop marketshare less than .25 percent. "Yeah, right," I said to myself, clicked the link, and found yet another bit of bad research from WebSideStory. According to their methodology, "Linux has failed to gain market share from Microsoft and Apple operating systems. As of December 17, 2001, Linux held a global usage share of only 0.24 percent...."


According to Linux More Bark Than Bite With Web Users, According to WebSideStory's StatMarket, Windows and Macintosh users account for 98% of all Web users. Of the remaining two percent, only a small minority surf with Linux. Or so WebSideStory claims.

As we noted in Statistical Lies two-and-a-half years ago, "The problem isn't the numbers, but how they were derived." Only sites using "HitBox" software (HitBox is a division of WebSideStory, as is StatMarket) are polled. They may represent 125,000 sites among the millions on the Web, but they are invariably sites created on and often served on Windows machines. You can bet your bottom dollar that Slashdot and Low End Mac are not among these sites.

So I had to check my stats. If anything, a Mac oriented site could expect to draw more Mac users than other sites, which should mean a lower proportion of Windows and Linux users. Here are some numbers based on the percentage of pages served by OS:

      Month    Mac    Win   Linux
      8/2000  48.1%  42.0%  1.57%
      9/2000  49.4%  42.8%  1.43%
     10/2000  49.2%  42.3%  1.25%
     11/2000  50.2%  42.8%  1.22%
     12/2000  51.6%  42.4%  1.13%
      1/2001  51.4%  42.6%  1.22%
      2/2001  53.9%  40.5%  1.23%
      3/2001  52.5%  42.4%  1.17%
      4/2001  50.6%  43.2%  1.14%
      5/2001  49.5%  44.7%  1.15%
      6/2001  48.9%  44.2%  1.27%
      7/2001  50.7%  43.5%  1.38%
      8/2001  48.4%  44.2%  1.35%
      9/2001  49.0%  44.2%  1.34%
     10/2001  45.2%  46.3%  1.51%
     11/2001  42.6%  45.1%  1.18%
     12/2001  44.9%  39.6%  1.31%

Odd, isn't it, that HitBox sites only attract 0.24% of their audience among Linux users. Maybe their subject matter just doesn't attract computer geeks, the kind of people most likely to be running anything besides Windows and the Mac OS.

We've said it before, and let's hope we don't have to say it again, but WebSideStory's conclusions don't seem to fit reality. As we noted in Statistical Lies, their results always come up with a higher percentage of Windows users and a lower population of Mac, Linux, and other OS users than anybody else.

Microsoft lackeys? Maybe.

We certainly wouldn't want to take the data from 50-100 Mac sites and pretend they represent the broader Web population. Nor would we give any credence to a study that extrapolated Web usage based on visitors to Slashdot and other *nix-related sites.

Why trust a Windows-centric study?

Yet they get coverage on MacCentral, Insanely-Great, and who knows how many other sites. Sorry, but flawed studies don't deserve to be treated as real research.

What do we know? That Unix variants make up the #3 platform for visitors to our site and most others, and that a majority of those visitors use Linux. The percentage of Linux users seems quite stable, even on our site. The pattern WebSideStory discerns appears right, but we put no credence in their numbers. After all, why would Linux users visit a pro-Mac site at about 5x the level they visit general sites? It just doesn't sound right.

In fact, we suggest you go the the StatMarket home page and read the scrolling customer list - a lot are companies very much tied to Windows and/or Mac software development, such as Adobe. Another is Sun, which has nothing to gain from a growing Linux market.

Curiously missing from the list is Microsoft, which isn't to say that they may not be a client and may not be funding studies like this. After all, Microsoft has stated for the record that they consider Linux the greatest threat to Windows hegemony - even more than the Mac OS. Whether funded by Microsoft or not, the results of this study certainly reach conclusions that will make Bill Gates happy.

Our only real question for WebSideStory is what percentage of Web users are using Mac OS X - more or less than use Linux?

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