Today's Math Lesson: Perception = Reality

Almost everyone reading this post is aware that Ubuntu is the most popular free OS in the world.

Almost everyone not reading this post is aware that Ubuntu is dramatically sliding in popularity.

Pop quiz: Who's right?

So, do we want the 99.9999999...% of the world that does not read Planet Ubuntu to continue to believe that Ubuntu is imploding? Do we want to ride the Haemorrhaging Horse into the chasm?

Or, are we going to do something about it?

Yesterday, I blogged about some simple steps we can take to alter perception..

I warned that unless we take proactive steps to squish the meme, it will spread.

It is spreading. It will hit the mainstream press imminently. This is not a drill.

Ubuntu Contributor Community: What are you doing about it?

Ubuntu LoCo-Team Community: What are you doing about it? (San Francisco, California especially).

Ubuntu Canonical Contributor Community: What are you doing about it? Would you like to release some stats to the mainstream media that show Ubuntu's popularity on the rise?


Horse bad tummy ache.Horse bad tummy ache.


What is Ubuntu Community? What is the Ubuntu Canonical Contributor Community? For a precise definition, please refer to the Ubuntu Community Lexicon depicted here.


Ubuntu is becoming more popular day by day.


I have been a user, fan and advocate of Ubuntu for a long time. I was concerned a couple of years ago when Our Mr. Shuttleworth started talking about how the project was not producing an adequate profit, because that sounded like the beginning of the end. Now the end is here: Unity is a dedicated touchscreen interface for mobile devices, and Ubuntu has adopted it as "the one and only" official Ubuntu desktop [sic]. Our Mr. Shuttleworth is cutting his losses and attempting to capture a large market share in the high growth smartphone and e-book reader markets, and sacrificing the desktop market in the process.

Ubuntu is putting all its eggs in one basket and spending ALL its community goodwill capital by presenting an abusive prospect to its user base: "Beta test our touchscreen solution on your desktop workstations, or go elsewhere." Microsoft could get away with this because its user base does not know that there is any other way than to "take whatever they give us." But Canonical seems to have forgotten that Ubuntu is a GNU/Linux distribution and for its user base, changing operating systems only takes a couple of hours. In a Ubuntu 12.x vs. Mint contest, Mint wins hands down because it is LESS less work, by many orders of magnitude, to switch to Mint than to adapt to using a dedicated touchscreen interface with a mouse and keyboard.

"Perception is reality"? The belief that Ubuntu's rapidly collapsing reputation and market share is something you can fix with "perception management," e.g. propaganda, only demonstrates what has gone wrong at Canonical, and why Ubuntu is on the way down and out.


@ Steve,

I encourage you to join the discussion on Ayatana and make a difference.

Let's revisit in a year or so and see where this all goes. My bet is that Ubuntu will double by that time.


Yes this is true, "Ubuntu is the most popular free OS in the world". I m was using ubuntu in the office because of windows license. The main thing was which we faced in office software because of some file downloading problems. Ubuntu is now popular OS in the world now, without license.


If they keep banning people with over 1000 posts on the ubuntu forums for "unity trolling". If the admins and mods don't stop telling experienced users who help others to shut up or you will be banned when they complain. What will happen is they will piss off more people when fewer are around to help.
Who's bright idea was it for the mods of the forum to oversee themselves? Guess who sits on the forum council? The same people who are in charge of the forum.


You probably shouldn't look @ the stats that much, however, reality, at least in "my social circles" like someone above said is pretty much bad sign for ubuntu..err..unity. What I see around me is:
- people move back to 11.04
- people stay at 10.10/04 versions
- people are moving to mint
- people are on 11.10 and switching between unity and shell and complain *a lot*.

I have a feeling that, in the end, someone is going to wake up and fix gnome-shell and make it usable. I decided to move to Mint by tomorrow (new ssd going to be delivered) because it is basically ubuntu without unity and somewhat usable gnome-shell. (I don't know about MATE stuff yet).

So, if I look around, ubuntu is going to loose some users, I don't know how much though...anyway, they lost me after four years by tomorrow, not a big deal though ;-)


Im one of the many ex-ubuntu user switching to mint. Been using ubuntu since 7.10, unity is not my cup of tea, while gnome-shell farewell ubuntu


Great news. The Ubuntu user agent was recently restored to Firefox.

Soon you will have more solid data to combat the FUD.



Seemingly great news. Can you (or someone reading this) post the new user agent string here from a live Precise Pangolin install? Thanks!


Firefox 8 has already landed in 11.10, so:

Mozilla/5.0 (Ubuntu; X11; Linux x86_64; rv:8.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/8.0


WTF with the horse!

In my experience, most of the people talking about Ubuntu "dying" and the raise of Mint... don't use Ubuntu. At all. I would be surprised if most of them use any other Linux distribution.

So I would say: never mind. I'd like Canonical and the people behind Unity take a deep look into the numbers and see if effectively Unity release has affected Ubuntu popularit, learn about, and make any change they think it's needed to improve Ubuntu. But that's all.



The horse sure is hurt. I think Joe (the artist) did a pretty good job capturing the essence of the situation. Disturbing, yes! Perhaps less disturbing than what's on prime time television though ;)

I agree with the notion that the main detractors are likely members of the Ubuntu Non-Consumer Community and thus consistent with the legend of the Haemorrhaging Horse. It's standard practice to attempt to hobble others' horses as they attempt to cross the chasm.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.


If you notice the graph Mint was stable and didn't really start taking off until Unity was rolled out by default with 11.04. It spiked upwards even steeper when Ubuntu 11.10 came out with no way to switch back to Gnome 2, or a similar menu based system like what is in Mint 12.

This isn't a perception != reality issue, as you seem to imply, well other than perhaps with the perception of the remaining Ubuntu users.

Many users really do hate Unity that much.

Hopefully Ubuntu will become usable in a non-Unity manner, perhaps similar to Gnome 2 or Mint 12, before it manages to completely drive itself into the ground.


Kubuntu, Lubuntu and Xubuntu are already usable in this manner, to name a few.


When Unity infected my perfectly happy Ubuntu world, I switched to Kubuntu, but that world is far from perfect and a heck of a less of a smooth ride than my previous Ubuntu. For what it is worth, I'm one of those long-time Ubuntu fans who have praised it and spread the good word, but who's now so fed up with the new direction (including the various Kubuntu / Xubuntu half-hearted band-aid solutions) that I'm going Mint (or some other; haven't made up my mind yet).

I can understand a lot of the reasons for doing what was done with making Unity, but cutting the easy tweaking out was the main stupid thing done. By all means, make something that is appealing and smooth for even grannies and children, but don't kill your main support and fan base, the power user by not allowing them to tweak it back to their liking. (That is the very definition of a power user) Also, it's the arrogance of "we know best" coming from high that is truly the main error here. Linux is *all* about collaboration and choosing what works, and after so many people were yelling from the side-lines that Unity didn't work, why should you be surprised people are switching away in droves? Why surprised at all?

Some, like me, even thought that the next versions and updates to Unity would at least address the main issues being raised by all these people, at *least* let us tweak and configure it back to something we can use. But no. And so we switch away. And you *shouldn't* be surprised by that. If you are, then the real problem lies somewhere else than where you're currently pointing the finger.

I loved Ubuntu. Now I'm hating it, having a Kubuntu 11.10 with tons of stupid band-aids and hacks to get around the simple problem of just doing things on a daily basis (like having a taskbar that *I* prefer the behaviour of, or having, you know, the basic ability to chuck in exceptions to my proxy list ... very, very basic stuff that has been taken away. Yes, of course I can hack it, and I do, ut I've got more important things to hack than the glaring trivial and expected)

Anyway, enough whining on my part. Good luck with it all, I hope you figure it out.


Almost everyone reading this post is aware that Ubuntu _was_ the most popular free OS in the world. - Fixed that for you.


I await your data :)


Even if drawing a conclusion of "Ubuntu is dying" from the Distrowatch stats is highly dubious, we have a problem: you can't effectively counter an (ostensibly) stats-based claim unless you produce hard stats of your own. Where are the official numbers from Canonical?


Precisely! Hoping the Ubuntu Canonical Community will join the discussion too.



So you know what is interesting..... the downward slope of the ubuntu line on that particular graph for the 2007-2010 datapoints agrees with google trends when google trends is averaged over a year time scale. That's very interesting. Just as interesting is the fact that distrowatch doesn't show an uptick in 2006, whereas google trends does. This (dis)agreement across two entirely different "interest" metrics is probably telling you something real and important. The trick is interpreting what that actually is.

However, the other graph in that article which looks just inside the past 12 months is entirely wrong and is making some seriously wrong assumptions about what the distrowatch data actually is without realizing the impact of the mint bump in the last month is _still_ having on the 6m and 12m averages. The article writer fails entirely to understand that those averages are not historic static values but are still alive and are still recalculated daily and include the mint bump data. Thus, the wrong conclusions are being drawn. Whatever is happening in the Ubuntu long term "interest" trending has nothing to do what so ever with "Unity." The downward trend pre-existed Unity and it has not accelerated in the last year. And Mint's near term bump up in interest has not come at the expense of Ubuntu as far as I can tell. Neither in Google trending nor in distrowatch. Whatever is happening with Mint is not directly connectable with a decrease in interest for anybody else that I can see.

Its really unfortunate that we have a laypress culture that has not been encouraged to take more responsibility in being critical or skeptical of numbers as a cultural norm... no matter what their source vender or 3rd party. Its very easy to generate numbers. Its very hard to generate credible numbers. I've yet to see a credible number which describes Ubuntu's userbase growth...from anyone.




Great observations. I'm tempted to dust off my "The Ubuntu Pig Thesis" article from back when I first noticed the slide.

We are in a position to change the discussion at the source if we are willing, as a community, to educate those who write articles based on dubious stats. This is best done in person, and is my motivation for challenging the Ubuntu California team in San Francisco to get involved. Hopefully one of the members will reach out to Gavin (the original author) in a constructive way and see what can be done to make future articles better.


I used to be an active Ubuntu member in our community. I still use Ubuntu, but I'm quite upset about the latest desktop changes as all other Ubuntu evangelists I've ever met. We did a lot of translations, lectures in universities, we did even regular release parties around the country. When ShipIt has stopped shipping free CDs, we even started our own burning and distributing CDs initiative.

There is certainly people confident that Ubuntu is on the right track and this slide in popularity is just a hoax or misunderstanding of numbers. But I don't know these people, they don't belong to my social network. So based solely on my personal experience, to answer your question: 'what are we doing?' The answer is: 'We are leaving too, bye.'



Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry to hear that you and your aspect have moved on, but I hope you've found a welcoming new platform and community.

Out of curiosity how would you characterize your social network that have "moved on"? This might help us see the situation more clearly.


That's not the reality! That's only information about one site that want's to be known, named distrowacth. they only want to be viral, nothing more.

How can you believe in this??? look here and show real stats!

Best Regards,
Claudio Novais.



Thanks for highlighting the site. Interesting and positive stats!

Would you be willing to write a blog article about that and spread it widely? It's good to "Amplify the Signal" :)


Hi Randall,

Maybe I could do something, but not for now! You have my email, remember me in next Wednesday and I'll get some time to do something!

Then I'll mail you with the result ;)

Oh btw, I will give my sincere opinion that you also can get it, in Portuguese, in the link above. (use google translator if necessary)

Best Regards,
Claudio Novais.


Truth is the belief in a perception held to be true by the perceiver. We each perceive our own reality, each believe in and define our own Truth.

Some would say "That is Relativism", but to that I say that if you do not define your own Reality and your own Truth, who defines it for you? Who has such power over you? Everything is relative to ourselves.

It's not F.U.D. that the Perception and individual Truth of many people are that gnome3 and unity aren't what those people are looking for in a desktop environment, regardless of their reasoning for their opinion, their reality, their truth, their opinion. I think many would agree (and disagree) with them, as there are some who like gnome3 and Unity, while others do not.

Linux Mint has gained me as a user because it's the only distro with sanity since it created MGSE (Mint Gnome Shell Extensions), while working diligently with the deveolopers of Gnome3 and MATE to resolve issues and create comparability between systems so that users of Linux Mint may once again have the "gnome2 experience" on a solid, gnome3 base of newer (and supported) code.

That is MY Truth, MY Reality, and MY Opinion. Many agree with me, and many do not, but to each our own, do as you will, harm none.


Philosophical and profound. Thank you for your insight.


It could have a lot to do with the fact that the last few Ubuntu releases have been very poor quality. Thats why I switched away...



In general the LTS releases of Ubuntu are the ones to use, and on "Ubuntu Certified" or at least "Ubuntu Friendly" equipment. Ubuntu 12.04 will be the release that sets the standard for quality and stability. Stay tuned :)


No, I have Ubuntu friendly hardware, and everything worked great when I got onboard at 9.04 Alpha 2, but with *each* release it has been progressively worse, whether it's graphic, sound, proxy, Java, whatever. It's been a downwards slope, and I read similar comments everywhere. I think the resources spent on Unity would have been better spent elsewhere, even though I understand that Unity can be fun to develop.


Speaking as a member of the San Francisco, California Ubuntu Community, I have to say I'm not going to do anything.

Marketing of Ubuntu may be valuable to a lot of people (and certainly you!) but it's not the only reason LoCos exist. I think it's important to remember that we're a team of volunteers who are putting our efforts where our passions are and those don't always necessarily line up with what others think are the best strategies for the marketing of Ubuntu.

I find much more value and satisfaction in spending my time continuing the work of Partimus (non-profit that collects donated computers and puts Ubuntu on them for lower-income schools) than chasing down tech journalists to try to change their mind or give them computers, or by organizing an Ubuntu Global Jam where I can teach a half dozen new people how to do ISO testing for a new release or run the Ubuntu Friendly tests so they can really give back to Ubuntu in a tangible way.


Nothing wrong with doing them all. I don't see these efforts as mutually exclusive in any way. The trick is to attract people from segments of the community that *do* have an interest in marketing and get them engaged on that aspect of Ubuntu. Thanks for your comment.


Quite simply, nobody wants the commerce. Ubuntu is a) turning into a platform to sell stuff; b) aligning with a commercial sector (mobile platforms) that revalue Canonical for sale; c) ties the user into commercial and non-free desktop "choices", which are hard to uninstall while maintaining a functional system; and d) attempts to tie developers into one distribution (through legal agreements and through distribution-dependencies like Unity).

There is no reason at all why Canonical should not make money from its users, and no reason at all why the shareholder should no attempt to maximise the value of the investment. However, there is also every reason that Linux users and developers should feel free.

(Yes, they are free, but like you said yourself, it is all about perceptions and Canonical has seriously tarnished the perception of Ubuntu).


I wish people would stop abusing the statistics offered by DistroWatch. The hits per page only display how many people are visiting a DistroWatch page. Nothing more. Nothing less. To extrapolate their hits into popularity distorts reality.

The "fix" for this issue is to stamp out any notion that hits mean anything other than hits on a website. Be firm. Be constant. Wherever you see it, just let people know that they're not making sense and let them know why.

A similar thing happened 4 years ago. PC Linux OS was top of the rankings. Numerous people were saying Ubuntu was dead, dying or something equivalent. I had enough of it in the end and posted this:

I don't think we need to go to DEFCON 2 on this, just be vigilant when you see a graph like that and post a comment explaining why they're worthless statistics for anything but monitoring how many people visit a DistroWatch page.

You're getting me all worked up about statistics now. Expect a post on Planet Ubuntu :)



Thanks for your comment and also for the post on Planet Ubuntu.

One problem with posting comments on the original article is that is fuels the fire. More hits on the article provides more incentive to write future articles of this nature.


I've already written about the first graph in "The Ubuntu Pig Thesis". See sidebar.


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