Almost every post we put out there about OS X or Windows is met with a comment, email, or a private message from someone who feels the need to point out that Linux did whatever it is we wrote about first and better. Undoubtedly, with such unbridled enthusiasm from the user base, you would think the market share of Linux on home desktop computers would be significantly higher than it is. Sadly, it isn’t.
Here at LockerGnome, we pay attention to numbers. Like any blog out there, LockerGnome is a business and, as a business, researching what our readers care about is paramount to our success. Every day, in fact, we meet to discuss what our writers are considering blogging about, and determining how that fits with our audience. Articles get killed every day, and we strive to make each one tell a story that our audience cares about.
So why don’t we write more about Linux? After all, at least one of our primary contributors (Eddie Ringle) is a dedicated Android and Linux user with a background in programming and the knowledge to push out articles concerning Linux with great accuracy. I’ve used Linux Mint, Ubuntu, and Fedora before, and greatly appreciate (and promote) the open source community as often as I can.
The problem comes down to business, and any blog that pays real-world bills for its writers has to take a look at numbers before making decisions about how it dedicates its most valuable resource: time. In addition to that, there really aren’t very many true Linux users out there who blog outside of the close-knit Linux communities and forums. The world of open source is a very active one, and it is constantly growing and evolving. Believe me when I say that just about every true geek blogger out there has a secret crush on Linux… really.
Here are some points to consider before calling out bias on the part of the writer when they cover a story that Linux may apply as a solution for, but fail to make the recommendation.
The Numbers Aren’t There, Yet.
In 2009, NetMarketShare reported the current number of Linux desktop operating systems accessing sites in its radar at 0.89%. This is a fairly significant amount of people considering the relatively large amount of Web-capable systems in the world at the time. Today, Linux accounts for 1.2% of the total Web traffic reported by the NetMarketShare.
That said, when you compare the 91.9% of users on Windows and 6.9% running OS X, you begin to see why more blogs dedicate resources to writing about these two platforms over Linux.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of successful Linux blogs out there. In fact, for a niche audience, it is a fairly active and sizable one. These sites tend to focus either entirely or mostly on open source platforms rather than giving a wide scope of stories from all platforms. Some larger outlets may have the resources to dedicate writing staff to the cause, while others have to place staff on beats that match their audience demographics.
At LockerGnome, the numbers are fairly different from the general world audience reported by NetMarketShare. Here is a glimpse of how our readers break down over the past month.
- 76.86% Windows
- 11.30% OS X
- 02.85% Linux
Compared to the non-techy world, we have double the percentage of Linux users, and almost double the amount of OS X users. Still, the vast majority of the readership comes from non-Linux operating systems.
Writers Don’t Get It
I’m not saying that all writers don’t get Linux, but a great deal of them fall into this category. Let’s be honest here: How many times have you seen a tech reporter say something inaccurate about a Linux distro? How many of them do you think actually use Linux in their own homes? Chances are, unless you’re reading a blog that focuses on UNIX and Linux software, it happens more often than you care to remember.
No one can know everything about everything, and I certainly have 20+ tabs open in my Google Chrome window while researching an article on even the most simplest of how-to processes. Our comments areas certainly reflect that when one step is missed here and there, or we fail to mention an alternative that either slipped our minds or didn’t present itself during our own problem solving steps.
The fact is, our audience is way smarter than we are. When it comes to Linux distros and figuring out the best way to fix a graphics driver issue or explaining what the difference is between Debian and other platforms, our audience is definitely smarter than I am, anyway.
Eddie Ringle, a Linux user and one of LockerGnome’s contributors, weighed in with his take on the matter: “The Linux world is different from [Mac OS X] or Windows in that there isn’t suppose to be a dominant distro. This can throw most tech bloggers off who traditionally expect maybe one or two configurations and one or two ways of doing things.”
He went on to say, “I think this is where tech bloggers get lazy in a sense, as well. Because they aren’t used to having multiple options to solve a problem, they either pick one at random and write about it or they don’t write at all.”
It’s easy for writers more familiar with OS X or Windows to forget that Linux is a very different operating environment. It isn’t just a tree with many branches, but in some cases can be better described as a group of trees, each with their own roots and many similarities, though potentially very different as you extend out over time.
Writers Are Afraid to Get It Wrong
Blog comments can make or break a writer’s flow. The first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I turn in for the night is check comments on my most recent articles. There, I typically see corrections, accolades, and even the outright disagreement some readers wish to share with me (and the world). Finding the occasional “This sucks, Linux is better. Fanboy fail post.” in your comments thread can be fairly disheartening.
As a result, bloggers tend to take the safe road when writing about technology that they honestly don’t understand. Again, I could spend 10,000 hours learning about Windows and satisfy 75% of my readers, or spend that same time becoming an “expert” in Linux and satisfy 2% of my readers. It’s a problem so many bloggers face, it’s unreal.
Most bloggers blog out of passion. Anyone who tells you blogging is an easy way to pay the bills is either lying to you, or already famous for doing something else before starting their own. Blogging is a grind, and doing it to pay the bills means having to be as accurate as possible and as pleasing to read to as many of your readers as possible. Frankly, this makes writing about a topic that most bloggers are unsure about even more difficult. How much would you trust the advice I give if you had previously read a post that was inaccurate and based on only partial information with limited backing experience?
Tech writers tend to stick to what they’re familiar with. It’s safer, and brings less hate and disagreement from the audience.
Sponsors Hesitate to Buy Ads Against Open Source Alternatives
Remember earlier when I wrote about blogs being a business? The other side of that business is finding good sponsors to pay for ads that can be placed against your content. Even Google AdSense uses keywords that advertisers buy into, and not many sponsors feel they can sell paid products on pages that discuss open source and free commercial product alternatives. Again, that isn’t to say niche blogs about Linux and open source software don’t find good sponsors, but it’s a tough sell for a general tech blog with a wider focus.
Gaming blogs, for example, are all over the place. There are enough gaming blogs out there to keep even the most avid speedreader reading from dawn until dusk for hundreds of years and still not make a dent in the amount of content out there about Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and everything else pertaining to video games. Does that make gaming blogs a bad idea? No, but it does make it harder to carve out a name for yourself and gain the eye of sponsors that wish to promote products to an audience that is perceived by the majority of the world as being an audience only interested in video games themselves.
The same could be said about Linux. Linux users tend to love open source and inexpensive alternatives to costly commercial software. It would be hard for a company that creates a paid office software suite to see any clicks on an ad placed over an article about a platform that is almost exclusively about free software, especially when OpenOffice.org or LibreOffice comes pre-installed.
Things Change Very Quickly in the World of Linux
Writers tend to write about things that have some longevity to them. For example, if I had to choose between writing about a program that will remain largely unchanged for three years or one that will probably have a dramatic overhaul a year from now, I’d probably lean towards the article that would be valid for a longer period of time.
Looking at Ubuntu over the past few years, I can see a clear difference in how it looks, works, and responds to various processes. Entire forum communities have popped up and flourished with the single purpose of providing the Linux community with updated processes and news about the latest distro builds and changes. Linux users boast that they’re the first to see these great features we see in Windows and OS X, and they’re right a lot of the time. Linux users are the early adopters, being able to see the writing on the wall for the larger commercial operating systems in some cases years before anyone else. It’s because of this quick-change environment that so many writers get frustrated when attempting to cover Linux stories.
I’ve seen bugs and workarounds pop up on Monday, and a new build of the distro come out and solve the problem on Wednesday. At most, an article about the workaround would have had two days worth of traffic. Simply put, this is the dilemma so many professional bloggers face.
I didn’t write this piece to say anything negative about Linux. I love Linux, and greatly enjoyed the time I spent using Fedora almost exclusively in a professional capacity.
Undoubtedly, LockerGnome will continue to publish stories about Linux, Android, and other open computing platforms as time goes on. I just hope this article sheds some light as to why you don’t see Linux stories from as many bloggers around the blogosphere as often as you might wish.
It isn’t that bloggers don’t want to write about Linux; it’s just how the cards fall sometimes. Trust me, if that market share climbed up a few more percentage points, you’d get tired of just how much Linux coverage you’d see on the Web. Until that happens, the business of blogging will continue to be just that: a business.