Thursday, August 09, 2007

Counting GNOME and Linux Users

One of the impediments to the success of GNOME and Linux is the perception by hardware and software vendors and developers that there is no market for their products and services. Perhaps this is even the major impediment.

This is a classic chicken-and-egg situation. I experienced this with OS/2 in its heyday. Users don't want to use the OS because there are no apps, application developers don't want to write or port apps because there are no users. Same with hardware and drivers.

The problem with convincing vendors and developers that there is a market is that quantification of the market is characterised by very poor estimates. Simply, we cannot count sales and therefore there is no easy way to compare market share figures with Windows and Apple OSs.

There have been attempts to address this issue in the past. With respect to GNOME we have previously debated the issue, but it has now become dormant. Other projects, such as Linux Counter, have also tried, and failed.

The problem seems to devolve into two potential solutions:
  1. Some kind of "phone home" software, probably opt-in rather than on by default
  2. Encouraging people to visit a web site to "stand up and be counted"
The first has option is not so great in the sense that it would have to be approved by distros, who may not want it; and secondly they may want to keep (i.e. not share) the data.

The second option suffers from the problem of publicity. This is a classic e-commerce problem: it's no use having a great site/service if people don't know about it, and know how to find it.

Up until lately GNOME and the Linux community in general has not had the resources to mount an information campaign asking users to stand up and be counted. But now we do.

Google (and maybe others).

I would venture a guess that every internet-connected individual in the world would hit at least a few times per year. If we could convince them to (based on some detection system that could identify potential GNU/Linux or other Free OSs) offer a text ad pointing people to a counter, it would be problem solved as far as I can see.

The remaining problems would be purely technical (e.g. how to prevent "vote-stuffing", bots and so on).

I have no experience at dealing with global mega-corporations. Would it be best to develop the solution first (i.e. register a domain and set up the counting software) or just float the idea to them as-is?

By the way, seems to be available and is parked.

If you have thoughts on this issue, please leave a comment, or perhaps edit the GNOME "Counting Users" page.