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Tony Mobily [opinions]

Is GNU/Linux just not cool anymore? [linux] [google] [trend]

Software is becoming less and less important. Most people today just don't care about what software they use, what operating system they run, or who is behind the pretty screens they see. What they want, is something that works. Or, better, anything that works. This shift caused a series of changes which shook the whole industry. One of them amongst them: are GNU/Linux and free software in general just not cool anymore? Google Trends gives some interesting answers.

Some results

Google Trends is one of those pearls made available by Google that allows you to see how researched a specific keyword is, and has been, over the last few years. Google Trends' value comes mainly from the huge number of people who use Google. For example, how often was the word "myspace" searched in Google over the last few years? Here is the (sad) response.

Do you remember how popular MySpace was in 2007?

What about "Linux"? That is, how many people are looking for the word "Linux" in Google? The result is definitely food for thought:

Not many people seem to be looking for Linux at the moment...

What abour specific versions of GNU/Linux? Let's take for example Ubuntu:

Notice how the search volume spikes every 6 months, when a new release comes out. However, the current trend is downwards. How many of you can relate to this graph?

Working in Free Software Magazine, and being an Ubuntu user, I can very much relate to this chart. In fact, I hate to say that I can relate to it in a scary sort of way!

Now, where there are losers, there are winners. That's always true. So, who are the winners? Since I started from MySpace, I will be forgiven for mentioning Facebook:

Looks a little different than MySpace!

Definitely a different trend compared to MySpace. In the GNU/Linux world, we also have a but of a winner: the distribution Mint. Started from nothing, it became stronger and stronger, and it's now challenging Ubuntu's leadership:

Somebody in the GNU/Linux world gets an upper trend

For that matter, Android seems to be even more of a winner:

Somebody in the GNU/Linux world gets an upper trend

What do they really mean?

Looking at these results is immensely interesting. However, they need to be taken with a (big) pinch of salt. First of all, you don't get to see "real" numbers. Google will only offer a "Search Volume index". This will compare the keyword's search rate with itself. So, while growth is indeed important, it also depends on the magnitude we are talking about. To have an idea, have a look at what happens when comparing "Ubuntu" and "Linux Mint":

It's also important to remember that this is about the number of people searching specific keywords. Fewer people looking for the word "Linux" might well mean that people today already know what Linux is -- no point in looking for it. On the other hand, I know several people who will log onto Facebook consistently by typing "Facebook". That must help a little!


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