Mac OS vs. Linux: Who's #2?

by , 12:00 PM EDT, August 11th, 2004

So, who holds the number 2 spot in terms of desktop computer market share, Apple, or Linux? It seems the answer depends entirely on who you talk to. HP claims that its new Linux-based laptop will sell like hot cakes, helping Linux to displace the Mac OS's current number 2 position., while IDC, a market research company, says Linux desktops have already push Apple out of the number 2 spot.

Not so fast. Wired News' Leander Kahney talked to several analysts in an attempt to come up with a comprehensive answer, and posted his findings in an article titled Mac Keeps Lead on Linux. As you may have gleaned from the title, Wired has found that the Mac platform still retains the number 2 spot, according to many analysts, but could drop to number 3 in 2005. From the article:

"Linux captured the No. 2 spot as desktop operating system in 2003," IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky told IDG News Service. Kusnetzky predicted Linux will have 6 percent of the desktop market by 2007. Kusnetzky couldn't be reached for comment, and Wade couldn't explain the difference between IDG's and HP's projections.

However, other analysts were skeptical.

"I think those numbers are dubious," said Tim Deal, a financial analyst with Technology Business Research.

Peter Kastner, an analyst with Aberdeen Group, said the Mac has roughly 3 percent of the desktop market, and the Linux share is considerably lower than that.


Market research firm Gartner may have the answer. According to Gartner, forecasts need to distinguish between the OS the machine ships with, and the OS that is installed right after it's unboxed.

There is much more in the full article, including more comments from more analysts, information from Google, comments from HP and Red Hat, and more. The article also says that it's Microsoft, not Apple, who is losing desktops to Linux. You can read the full article at Wired News, and we recommend it as a very interesting read.

The Mac Observer Spin:

The Wired article uncovers and emphasizes some interesting notions; the idea that Linux is still not ready for the consumer desktop, for instance, is one we certainly agree with.

Linux has made some excellent advances in making itself more consumer friendly, but it cannot directly compete with the Mac OS or Windows yet. Also, while there are plenty of applications available for Linux, few consumer-oriented app makers produce apps for Linux. The Mac's app base is smaller than that of Windows, but it is far more robust than Linux's base, and apps are key.

Another thought we find interesting is how some analysts view the way PCs are used in emerging markets. It's ironic that pirated copies of Windows and other MS products that may be the cause of Apple retaining its number 2 position in desktops, and that's not a "rain on your wedding day" kind of irony.

It's also an irony that Microsoft both relies on and hates. Big Redmond has long known that piracy helped increase its dominance, and with that dominance secured, has been trying to monetize the installed base of pirates for much of the past 6-7 years. Our guess is that today, the company would rather have a pirated version of Windows being used in China, Vietnam, or Colombia than of a free copy of Linux, but that's a bit off-topic for this Spin.

The overall point is that in the developing world, Linux's ascendancy to being the #2 platform is all but assured, and in some markets it could eventually even supplant Windows as the #1 OS. We don't think it will happen as fast as some folks seem to think, but it will eventually happen. The cost issues involved are significant, and in markets where a Mac costs roughly a year's salary, or more, Apple is simply never going to be a significant player.

Apple seems to be taking that in stride, however, and is obviously not even considering competing in those markets. There is no profit on the systems-side of meeting that demand, and Apple only competes in markets in which it is possible to make a profit.

So the real question is what will happen in the developed world? Can Apple maintain the Mac's place as the #2 OS in the US, Europe, Australia, and Japan? For the next several years, in the least, the answer to that is almost definitely yes.

In the meanwhile, we still maintain that there is plenty of room for both the Mac and Linux. More importantly, we still believe that the more that either the Mac or Linux succeeds, the better it will be for the other. We think that both platforms benefit from being considered an alternative to Windows, instead of the alternative to Windows. The difference there in terms of mind share and getting people to think about their computing solutions, especially in the business world, is significant.