Linux has nearly half of the desktop OS Linux market

It would be twice as much if people could stop arguing about who counts and who doesn't

Opinion Linux is now a little more than three percent of global desktop OS market, excluding the just-over four percent that is ChromeOS. Which is also Linux, but the wrong kind of Linux.

Web server statistics aggregator Statcounter announced last week that as of June 2023, Linux accounts for three percent of worldwide desktop operating system use. However, this is still surpassed by ChromeOS, which means that desktop Linux has less than half of the desktop Linux market. If you feel that this is a bit weird, we agree with you.

Apparently, desktop Linux use measures 3.08 percent, lagging about a quarter behind the usage of ChromeOS at 4.15 percent. The problem with this is that ChromeOS is also a Linux distribution. It's a strange distro, non-standard in several ways, but current versions are built on the basis of Gentoo Linux, switching from an Ubuntu basis some years earlier.

We feel that a more accurate reckoning would be that Linux has now reached 7.23 percent of Statcounter's usage figures, with ChromeOS at just over half: 57.4 percent of the total. That seems like a more positive interpretation, one that Linux fans would be keen to make, but apparently not. By example, Linux advocacy site Linuxiac doesn't even mention ChromeOS in its write-up.

(As an aside, we suspect that quite a lot of the 3.23 percent of OSes grouped under "Unknown" are probably also Linux users, just extra-paranoid ones who are obscuring their user-agent or something.)

Why shouldn't ChromeOS count? It's a Linux kernel and a Linux userland on top of the standard glibc C library. You can open a shell. If you want, you can run a Debian container and once you're in there install and run any Debian app; The Reg FOSS desk's experimental ChromeOS Flex machine runs Firefox and DOSemu.

If someone said "Android is not a Linux," that is defensible. You can't easily download it for free, and you can't run it on your own generic off-the-shelf computer. There have been a few experimental Android-based desktop OSes, but so far they've all flopped. On its native platform of smartphones and tablets, you can't run ordinary Linux apps on Android. It's a different sort of beast, even though technically it is a Linux inasmuch as it has a Linux kernel. But that's about it. It even has a weird, non-standard, non-GPL libc, "Bionic". By default and unless cracked, aside from the kernel, it has nothing else Linux-like about it. No shell, no desktop, no X11 or Wayland, nothing.

But that's not the case for ChromeOS. Underneath its unique GUI layer – which, unlike the one in macOS, is open source – it's a relatively standard Linux which can run standard Linux apps, out of the box, on both x86 and Arm. As such, it's the most successful desktop Linux there is.

It's not a typical Linux, because typical Linuxes are tools for nerdy hacker types, and that kind of OS will never, ever go mainstream unless someone forces people to use it. (As the government of the People's Republic of China is currently doing, but that is irrelevant to this. No Google inside the Great Firewall means no ChromeOS.)

ChromeOS is a desktop Linux with the Linuxiness stripped out. No choice about partitioning. No weird dual-boot mechanisms. No choice of desktops or package managers. No package manager!

But in every way that matters, it is mainstream, it is commercially successful, it's a polished end-user desktop OS, and it's a Linux.

So naturally the Forces of FOSS hate it. Of course they do. And how do they express that contempt? By saying it's not a True Linux.

Unix is like a religion: somehow, it encourages schisms and splinter sects, all of whom deny that the others are legitimate. It's almost a defining characteristic.

Ignoring all the commercial Unixes as they are effectively all dead now, and just looking at the FOSS ones, there are about a dozen rival sects: NetBSD, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, DragonflyBSD, Minix, HURD and L4 and its various splinter groups, Plan 9 (9front, HarveyOS, Jeanne etc.), Inferno, xv6, v7/86, and of course, Linux and its thousand distributions.

Precisely two (2) Linux-based OSes have enjoyed large-scale commercial success as user-facing GUI systems for non-technical users. One has billions of users, the other a significant fraction of a billion. Both are from Google, and both share a defining attribute: the FOSS world rejects them.

ChromeOS comes in two flavors: there's ordinary ChromeOS, which you can only get by buying hardware built to run it (just like Apple's macOS), and there's ChromeOS Flex. Flex used to be called Neverware Cloudready. Neverware grew from Hexxeh's remixed and rebuilt ChromiumOS for ordinary PCs. Hexxeh made ChromeOS Flow, and that is the direct grandparent of ChromeOS Flex: both are ChromeOS for generic PC hardware. That is the significant angle. It shows that ChromeOS is just another Linux distro.

ChromeOS Flex is not like Android. It is a Linux in every way that matters. It's both small-f free and it's open source; there have been multiple remixes and rebuilds. It runs on generic kit with ordinary BIOS or UEFI, including with Secure Boot. It has a desktop, albeit its own unique one. You can pop a shell and install and run any arbitrary Linux app.

It looks like a Linux, it acts like a Linux, and it runs like a Linux. It is based on a generic Linux kernel, and it does Linuxy stuff with Linuxy binaries like any other desktop Linux.

It doesn't have systemd, but thank the great god Torvalds and his apostle St Cox that is not yet a requirement for a Linux distro. It has upstart, which was one of the most widespread init systems.

It is 100 percent on-brand for the Linux world that when one specific form of Linux-based OS goes mainstream, and is used by approximately half the human race, the True Believers of the Linux world disown it. Android is not a Linux. OK, they kind of have a point.

But ChromeOS, and especially ChromeOS Flex? Of course, all the advocates decry it as not being a True Linux, but then again, this just quickly descends into a "no true Scotsman" argument. As it is, the Fedora lot think Ubuntu is junk, and the Debianisti think everything else is junk, and the Arch folk think they are the true cutting edge, Slackware enthusiasts consider everyone else newbies, while the NixOS folk think all the rest are still in the stone age somewhere… ®

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