How to mis-read a statistic (was Re: [svlug] Linux has 12% of corporate desktop market)

Karsten M. Self kmself at
Sat Jan 11 14:41:17 PST 2003

on Sat, Jan 11, 2003 at 08:58:10AM -0000, John Conover (conover at wrote:
> Interesting:
> where Goldman Sachs, (the investment banking/VC folks,) claim that 12%
> of the companies in their survey have "rolled out Linux on the
> desktop." (Its the largest numbers I've seen.)

That's not "GNU/Linux on 12% of corporate desktops", that's "12% of
surveyed corporations with GNU/Linux on _at least one_ desktop".

It's also not "GNU/Linux replacing legacy MS Windows" (though it may

My read is that this is _sanctioned or acknowledged use_ of GNU/Linux,
probably by technical staff.  Who are quite likely running a Microsoft
OS product in parallel, either as a freestanding PC, or via VMWare.
This isn't anywhere near "GNU/Linux on 12% of corporate desktops".

It *is* a significant development.  Moreso the fact that it's sanctioned
and/or acknowledged, than that it's happening.  Hell, the proportion of
companies with GNU/Linux desktops is probably triple or more the value
cited.  What we're seeing is the response of the flack Goldman Sachs
talked to, and Goldman's research methodology isn't covered in this
article.  But the news itself is not as John's presented it.

> I wonder how much of it is using Linux as a negotiating position with
> the Redmond bandits, the old "... we have Linux running on some of our
> desktops ... now about the T's & C's of your corporate license ...
> Linux isn't imposing a Draconian licensing policy on us ... you need
> to sharpen your a pencil a little bit, too ..."

I think this is a very effective tool.  Frankly, one of the most direct
short-term benefits of GNU/Linux to the unwashed masses at present is as
a negotiation point.  Microsoft is reported to have offered steep
discounts, and even free product, to sites indicating a shift to free
software solutions:

    MS fights Open Source with freebies - an eyewitness writes
    By John Lettice
    Posted: 02/12/2002 at 14:24 GMT

    "I am not kidding. When I told them that I'd need at least ten
    licenses and at $400/each, this would be too much for me for the
    beginning, they offered to give us the license for free - and not
    only for now, but also for the future when we kept working on

> Kind of sweat; damned if they do-damned if they don't-a classic double
> bind market strategy.

Yep.  I've been saying this for quite some time:

    Finally, with the growing popularity and proven performance of free
    and open software alternatives, commercial software vendors may not
    have a competitive choice but to allow rampant pirating of their
    products, simply to gain a market position, however non-profitable
    it may be. In Redmond's eyes, a million pirated installs of Windows
    NT may still be preferable to a million installs of Linux.

    (Originally written July 2, 1998).


Karsten M. Self <kmself at>
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
   Geek for hire:

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