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The Ubuntu Popularity Decline

The top 5 linux distributions (a.k.a. the "linux popularity index"), courtesy of DistroWatch, shows Ubuntu in a slow but progressive descent compared to Linux Mint which is decidedly charging forward.

What is causing the decline for Ubuntu? Im not 100% convinced it is because of Unity. I myself am no fan of Unity. I have, up until this point stuck with Ubuntu 10.10. Over the long weekend here in the USA, I was ultimately forced to reinstall Ubuntu (I screwed it up all by myself!) so I choose to install Xubuntu 11.10. So far, I am enjoying Xubuntu a lot. Its very clean and crisp and FAST. My computer has a bloated feeling when using Ubuntu, even version 10.10. I cant comment on Linux Mint though, but will be giving Mint a try soon. Xubuntu is very easy to configure and re-arrange and its very similar to Ubuntu pre-Unity. But more on that for another time.

Unity came out with the Natty release which was back in April of this year, but Linux Mint overtook Ubuntu back in late 2010 after the 10.10 Maverick release. Why? Are linux users ultimately getting tired of change?

Every new release of Ubuntu brings some sort of change. Which music player is default? Banshee? Rhythmbox? Does it matter? Users get accustomed to a program after a while. I was loving Rhythmbox until Banshee took over. Then, I found love with Banshee and its integration with Ubuntu One, my podcasts, my radio stations, etc. But now Ubuntu is going back to Rhythmbox! Same thing has happened with the default chat program. Empathy, Pidgin, cups attached by string, etc. How about Ubuntu picks one and goes with it? If Ubuntu makes an app a default app, then should be giving extra resources to the developers. This would solidify a particular app as default for a while.

Another thing that would solve the back and forth default apps problem would to be have a rolling release cycle. At the very least, I think that would help.

Yes, even I... "Mr. I Heart Ubuntu" can get tired of all the changes. I just want a system that works and is fast. Remember when Ubuntu promised under 10 second boot times? Its like Ubuntu has ADD or something... Hey look! A squirrel! And on to some other project Ubuntu is cooking up.

So here we are. Ive sketched out a typical 'phases of decline' chart below...
DistroWatch is saying that Ubuntu is on the decline. But where on the chart above would that put Ubuntu? I would take a guess that Ubuntu is still in the early phases and probably at the "blinded" point. Ubuntu wants to do great things and is blinded that it needs to fix its myriad of problems users complain about. If it fails to reverse course (inaction) then it will continue with faulty actions (Unity?). By that time, if Ubuntu hasnt made decisive action to fix its wrongs, then Mint and other distros will solidly stay ahead.

I would love to hear your feelings on why #1) Ubuntu is apparently in a decline and #2) where on the 'phases of decline chart' would you place Ubuntu?

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  1. If I can add to my original article, the easy solution to prevent further decline would be to make a solid GNOME2 style Ubuntu... pre-Unity look. The fix that is available now doesnt look pretty. If the Linux Mint people can cook something up, why cant the Ubuntu devs?

    Are the next two years of Ubuntu dedicated to focusing on mobile apps? If so, I think Ubuntu will continue its decline. Two years out in an era where technology is expanding and thriving seems like a long time.

  2. Anonymous12:40 PM

    Unity is not so bad, but still I don't like it either. Xubuntu has become my favourite OS as well.

    The rest of the criticism is largely unfounded, I think.

    The statistic is misleading (there are lies, damned lies and statistics): "Ubuntu in a steady decline since 2005", yeah right...

    The default applications are no restriction: you can install whatever application you like best, from the Ubuntu software centre.

    Greetz, Pjotr.

  3. Anonymous1:06 PM

    I don't think that Ubuntu is in a steady decline. Distrowatch only tell us that geeks and early ubuntu users look for other systems. In fact, new users don't even know this portal. But they are the current target of Ubuntu and form the majority of users.

  4. I wish we had a better count than website hits. I've spent a lot of time at the Linux Mint website, and have even downloaded it, but I'm running Ubuntu 10.04 on four computers in my household and not running Linux Mint on any of them. I tried Linux Mint LXDE on an old laptop for my mother, but because of a graphics issue ended up going back to the tried and true Ubuntu 10.04.

    Even if the hit counter is roughly correlated with actual installations, I don't think hopping among default applications is the main culprit in the alleged decline. I never liked RhythmBox, and pretty quickly settled on Amarok 1.4 as my preferred musing player. Following the release of Amarok 2.0, I've stuck with players forked from (Pana) or inspired by (Clementine) Amarok 1.4. And if I switched to Linux Mint or any other distro, I would still be running Clementine.

  5. Anonymous5:55 AM

    Xubuntu really is a great variant of Ubuntu that should get a lot of love. With that said, enough with the "doomsday" alarmism: http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2011/11/dare-to-be-different-ubuntus-popularity-is-not-declining/

  6. Anonymous9:39 PM

    it's because when they come out with a new release, you can't figure out how to do what you used to be able to do. I'm about to quit using ubuntu because I've been trying all day to get around some silly problem with ubuntu 11.10 and I can't do it. I don't want to spend any more time on Ubuntu forums, or googling and going through the search results with a fine toothed comb. I think Ubuntu is too trigger happy with pumping out new versions and they don't make sure everything works before they come out with a new one, and they're too quick to re-arrange everything, which leaves you all confused and then you're spending your time trying to figure out how to use ubuntu instead of getting work done.
    I'm about to go put windows back on my computer right now.
    Ubuntu may be fine for 'geeks' with a huge background in computer know-how, but I think in my case, my only option is to install windows side by side with ubuntu.
    When the makers of Ubuntu can get their marbles together and make ubuntu accessible to the layman, maybe then Ubuntu can rise in popularity.
    Too many people with bright ideas without their feet firmly on the ground.

  7. Anonymous9:14 PM

    "Straight" Ubuntu 10.04 will be replaced immediately after this post by Xubuntu 11.10 on my main PC. Lubuntu is already on the netbook. I don't like how unity looks too much like an I-pad.

  8. And another thing! I read the other comments, and I agree that Ubuntu is throwing out changes far to quickly. I would like to see a rolling release. I to, get tired of having to re-figure everything out. I just wanted to point out though, that you don't HAVE to upgrade every single time. If it is working for you, then why change it?

    P.S. First time reader. Great site!