Apple vs. Linux: Which Will Win Disgruntled Windows Users?

Thursday Dec 13th 2007 by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
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The numbers tell a story – but not the whole story.

Apple and Linux are engaged in battle – a battle to win over disgruntled Windows users. But who will win, and what will the consequences be for the loser?

The most commonly held belief amongst Apple and Linux fanboys is that both factions are engaged in some kind of a war with Microsoft. The truth is that if you look at the market share figure for Windows, Mac and Linux, both Mac OS and all the Linux distros that have ever been released are dwarfed by Windows.

Any idea that there’s a war going on can be dismissed – it’s not war, it’s more like two overly optimistic ants fighting on the back of an elephant.

Not convinced? Here are a few statistics released by Net Applications that show market share for November 2007.

• Both Mac OS and Mac Intel combined command less than 7% of the market share, while Windows Vista already accounts for over 9%. Not impressed? Factor in how long Mac OS has been available, and then remember that Vista has beaten that in a year.

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• Think that Linux users are a huge influential market share? Well, the market share for either Windows NT or Windows 98 are bigger. Is either of those markets considered influential?

But if you take a closer look at the numbers, especially comparing the market share data for November 2007 with the market share data for the same time last year, you can’t help but notice a trend. It’s small and you have to look closely to see it, but it’s there.

What you see is that there has been a small shift in users away from Windows. It’s only 2 per cent but it’s enough to show up. So where have this 2 per cent gone – did they migrate to Mac or to Linux? The data suggests that Mac is the winner, gaining roughly 1.5 per cent. In comparison, Linux has only managed to increase its market share by a pretty miserable 0.2 per cent. The tractor beam on the Apple mother ship (powered in no small way by Steve Jobs’ personality) is working well and drawing in a stream of new users on a regular basis.

The fact that the majority of those discontented Windows users, who have overcome OS inertia to make the leap, are shifting to Mac is significant because it proves that price of an operating system (or platform as is the case with the Mac) isn’t the issue. This doesn’t bode well for Linux, whose main advantage is that distros are free (although many Linux communities have now realized a zero dollar price tag isn’t the selling point it used to be and are now shifting their attention to promoting the “open” nature of Linux – a move which I guarantee will be even more unsuccessful than focusing on the price).

People shifting to Mac are obviously not motivated to find cheap deals. Not only is Linux now stuck with a sub 1 per cent market share, but it finds itself being squeezed by both Windows and Mac.

Continued: But there's a story that the user stats doesn't tell

Are users choosing Mac over Linux because OS X is the superior platform? To be honest, I don’t know that users see a choice. Apple is engaged in a massively high profile ad campaign which Linux has no chance against.

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Apple ads are everywhere, on TV, at the movies, on the web, and in the newspapers, and the message that’s being pushed is clear – if you’re tired of Windows hassles, switch to Mac. Apple has made the switch as risk-free as possible by bundling with the platform the ability to run Windows on the Mac, so users can not only run their favorite Windows applications but also bring their malware-encouraging practices with them to the new platform.

Advertising aside, the gains made by Apple tell you a lot about what people are looking for in an alternative to Windows. What they want is a self-contained platform that’s easy to use and as hassle-free as possible. What they don’t want to be doing is messing about with a dozen different distros choosing the one right for them (Apple got that right with the “one version of Mac OS X vs. who knows how many Vista flavors” ad campaign), configuring repositories and begging for help on forums when things don’t work.

There is one area where Linux could well gain traction in 2008, and that’s at the cheap end of the spectrum. As prices fall and $200 PCs become a reality, neither Microsoft nor Mac will be able to provide an OS cheap enough to offer value for money. $200 PCs don’t have huge appeal and are going to have to sell themselves (because two hundred bucks won’t allow for a lavish advertising budget) but they are likely to sell well nonetheless – after all, every geek could do with a cheap PC.

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