The True Market Shares of Windows vs. Linux Compared

Dan Price 27-03-2018

What’s the most-used operating system in the world? Easy question, right? It’s obviously Windows.


But the answer might not be quite so straightforward. Sure, Windows dominates the home computer sector, but Linux powers far more of the world’s technology than you probably realize.

In fact, if it were possible to analyze every single piece of technology out there, Linux would almost certainly come out on top.

Sadly, such an analysis will never be feasible. But that won’t stop us digging down into some facts and figures. Here’s why Linux’s true market share is bigger than you think.

Desktops and Laptops

Let’s start with the equipment that we all use every day: desktop and laptop computers.

According to web statistics company NetMarketShare, Windows boasts an entirely unassailable 88.7 percent of the market share. StatCounter puts the number slightly lower at 82.6 percent.


Chromebook, Linux, Windows

Windows’ dominance is down to the popularity of two releases: Windows 10 and Windows 7. NetMarketShare puts Windows 7 at 44 percent and Windows 10 at 29 percent. StatCounter scores it as 41 and 45 percent, respectively.

In contrast, Linux is struggling along with around two percent of the market. Ubuntu is almost certainly the most popular distro, but precise statistics are impossible to find.

So, if Linux is so far behind Windows Windows vs. Linux: Here's What They Have in Common Instead of nitpicking how Linux has this or Windows lacks that, perhaps we should celebrate that both operating systems are robust, effective, and feature complete. Let's see what exactly they have in common. Read More , how can it possibly claim to be the most popular operating system in the world? Let’s take a closer look.



Chromebooks have been making remarkable gains in the education sector 5 Reasons Every Student Should Be Using a Chromebook Looking for a new computer for your college work? Forget a new Mac and disregard Windows. What you need is a Chromebook -- here are five reasons why. Read More . In the US K-12 sector, the devices enjoyed a 58 percent share of the market in 2016. With 17 percent growth in 2017 and a predicted 10 percent growth in 2018, one can safely assume the market share today is nearer 70 percent.

Perhaps most impressively, Chromebooks are posting growth figures in an era of declining laptop sales 4 Reasons Why You Don't Need a Laptop Anymore The era of laptops may be coming to an end. In fact, there are several reasons why laptops are now sub-optimal purchases. Here's what you need to know! Read More . The total sales remain a fraction of the total PC market, but the future looks encouraging.

Web Servers

Chromebook, Linux, Windows
Image Credit: Sashkin7/Depositphotos

In what will prove to be a reoccurring theme throughout this article, exact figures are not readily forthcoming.


However, according to W3Cook, Linux powers the servers that run 96.5 percent of the top one million domains in the world (as ranked by Alexa).

W3Techs goes even further down the list and claims Linux powers around 70 percent of the top 10 million Alexa domains. Windows controls the remaining 30 percent.

Public Cloud

The public cloud—which is closely tied to the aforementioned web servers—is another area where Linux has pulled well ahead of the chasing pack.

Given the fragmented nature of the space, it’s almost impossible to put your hands on definitive statistics. However, given Amazon EC2 controls nearly half of the market, it’s a good proxy for the entire sector. It’s especially true considering Microsoft has allowed Linux to be installed on its Azure cloud service since 2012.


On Amazon EC2, standard Linux (along with its various distros) controls 92 percent of the market. It boasts more than 350,000 individual instances. Again, Windows is responsible for the other eight percent.


Before we dive into the stats, let us preface this section by saying that arguments about whether Android can truly be considered a Linux system have raged for years. The debate shows no sign of reaching a definitive conclusion.

The controversy arises because there’s not a universally-accepted definition of what Linux refers to. It could be a reference to a Linux kernel, a distro, or even a GNU operating system.

Android uses a Linux kernel What Is a Kernel in Linux and How Do You Check Your Version? Linux is an operating system, right? Well, not exactly! It's actually a kernel. But what is the Linux kernel? Read More , but has extra libraries, a GUI, and some proprietary code. You can draw your own conclusions. I view the Android OS as a subset of the wider Linux world; therefore, I think it’s fair to include it on this list.

So, what about the stats? Well, Android is comfortably the most popular mobile operating system in the world.

As of March 2018, both NetMarketShare and StatCounter agree that it controls around 70 percent of the combined smartphone and tablet market. Second is iOS with approximately 24 percent. Windows is a distant third with less than one percent.

There are an estimated 2.5 billion smartphones in the world, so we can safely assume Android is running on roughly 1.75 billion handsets. For comparison, Windows is running on an estimated 1.5 billion home computers.


Linux utterly dominates the list of the top 500 most powerful supercomputers in the world What Is a Supercomputer? The Top 10 Supercomputers in the World Supercomputers are capable of quadrillions of operations per second. But what, exactly, is a supercomputer? Read on to learn why they're important, and how they'll change in the future. Read More . In June 2017, 498 of the top 500 were running Linux. The only two non-Linux machines were running the Unix-based AIX. (See a comparison of Unix and Linux Unix vs. Linux: The Differences Between and Why It Matters Before the creation of Linux, the computing world was dominated by Unix. What's the difference between Linux and Unix? Read More if you’re not sure about those.)

By the end of the same year, the two AIX machines had dropped off the list. At the time of writing, Linux now powers all 500 computers on the list.

In case you’re curious, the fastest supercomputer in the world is currently the Sunway TaihuLight in China. It has 10,649,600 cores and can perform 93 petaflops per second. It’s almost three times as fast as the second-placed supercomputer, also in China. The Swiss-built Piz Daint rounds out the top three.

And the Rest…

Chromebook, Linux, Windows

Linux isn’t just common on laptops, mobiles, and servers. You can find it in consumer products as diverse as Amazon Kindle e-readers, smart TVs, Nest thermostats, drones, and Tesla cars.

Governments have also been adopting the OS in record numbers. The French National Gendarmerie uses its own internal distro, as does the Russian military, and the Spanish education state education system. It even forms the basis of the North Korean state-run operating system, Red Star OS.

It’s also the operating system of choice for the Hollywood movie industry. 1997’s Titanic was the first blockbuster produced on Linux; today, almost every box office hit uses the technology.

And, perhaps most incredibly, Linux has powered space missions. SpaceX uses it for the Falcon 9 rockets.

So, What Is Linux’s Market Share?

It’s impossible to say. There are just too many variations across too many pieces of technology to be able to accurately deduce any top-level figures.

However, we can absolutely say that Linux is not a small-time operating system that’s only suitable for geeks, as people often accuse it of being. In fact, take a look at these ways Linux is taking over the world 9 Ways Linux Is Taking Over the World Linux doesn't only run on home computers and web servers. Here are some unusual ways Linux is being used around the world. Read More .

If you’d like to join the growing crowd of Linux users, check out our guide to the best Linux distros and apps The 10 Most Popular Linux Apps and Distros in 2018 Not sure which Linux operating systems and apps to use? We've rounded up some of the most popular Linux apps and distros to keep an eye on in 2018. Read More .

Related topics: Chromebook, Linux, Windows.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Dawesi
    February 6, 2020 at 12:41 am

    If you want to talk embeded then Java kills linux dead. If you want to talk corporate servers, Windows is king, if you talk web-facing 'small' websites linux is king, if you talk major websites, then firstly neither is a webserver, but it's evenly distributed. For example the UK stock exchange runs on Windows Server. iCloud from apple runs on windows.

    "It’s also the operating system of choice for the Hollywood movie industry"

    I'm going to call complete BS on that... even Steve Jobs and Dreamworks run on windows rendering farms.

    Most movie studios and tv show editing suites are now windows (thanks to apple butchering final cut pro into a consumer product)...

    This comparisson is a fanboi piece with no real statistics, just made up senarious... please unpublish this, it's embarassing.

  2. Nathan
    October 25, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Microsoft Windows is big on the desktop primarily because users have essentially no choice when they purchase a Desktop or Laptop, Windows is already installed. It would be a far better world for Desktop users if all hardware systems came with the choice of Linux, MacOS or Windows.

  3. michael mantion
    March 6, 2019 at 12:05 am

    Did they mention all the linux embedded devices?

    • Dawesi
      March 13, 2019 at 7:38 am

      or java ones (way more than linux)

  4. John IL
    March 2, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    Linux on desktop never has managed much of a market share. Sure you can split hairs and call Android, and Chrome OS a Linux version. But honestly they are not really open source they only have Linux kernel as the open source part. They both are very much Google conceived and licensed. In general any real open source has managed to attract a small percentage of overall PC users. Mostly in technology enterprise where Linux is familiar in server farms, IT departments and other specific markets where the Linux OS would be useful. The mainstream consumer tends to care less about the OS and more about what the OS runs in terms of programs, apps, and features. If Android did not have the support of familiar apps it would not be as popular. Case in point Windows mobile, so popular on desktop PC but failed in mobile for lack of app support. Doesn't help Linux that purists of open source fail at embracing any sort of proprietary connection in order to better the overall user experience. After all, most users could care less about whether a OS is fully open sourced or not. They just need stuff to run that they need. Take a look at any Linux desktop forum and you ill find newbie's who have driver issues, don't know how to install apps, or even know what apps will replace their licensed ones from Windows. In the end its the frustration of these things that turns them away from Linux and back to Windows or Mac OS. Most users are not IT professionals who care about terminal lines or using unfamiliar open source software. They care about proven software they have used for years that works. Something the Linux community has always failed at understanding.

  5. handy rusandi berbagi73
    September 30, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    windows always update by day, week

  6. Israeli guy
    June 25, 2018 at 8:25 am

    My grandparents were ruining their computer every 6 months (more or less).
    After that I needed to format, reinstall and wait for another 5-7 months. One day I had no more patience and after format installed Ubuntu. Put on desctop Chromium and called it "Internet", downloaded Skype and that's all. I said that I installed new version of Windows that called Ubuntu, and it will work for a long time. This was the last time I needed to support that PC. It works successfully for 5 years till today and will work most probably , until we upgrade the hardware for them... No viruses and antiviruses, no problems, even a bit faster. So I did my choice - LUNUX!!!

    • Undertaker
      November 12, 2018 at 10:46 am

      Yeah, that's the typical story. I also got fed up with being a Windows support. Ubuntu just works for my parents.

  7. Ennai
    April 29, 2018 at 2:31 am

    So... Linux wins everywhere except PC. Windows loses everywhere except PC. Good to know.

  8. CommandLineHero
    March 29, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    OS Market share is Desktop (and laptop) specific. Not servers, TVs, phones, etc. That is why Linux is so small. I mean yes, if you look at every device on the planet, Linux is the king, but not on the desktop where it counts (which is why companies develop primarily for Windows and some for Mac). Hence why tripe-A game titles, and most software has to have workarounds for Linux use.
    Linux user wants product -> Company that makes said product sees virtually no market share and assumes no one will buy/use it and thus not make a profit. Rinse and repeat.

    • Israeli guy
      June 25, 2018 at 8:27 am

      hmmm, Sketch for example couldn't be found for WIN, only for Mac..

  9. Peter van Dijk
    March 28, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    "In fact, if it were possible to analyze every single piece of technology out there, Linux would almost certainly come out on top."
    On each of those Linuxes, and Windows installation, and Apple devices, etc, you will find several instances of SQLite, beating Linux by an order of magnitude.

    • dragonmouth
      March 28, 2018 at 5:51 pm

      Read the first line of the article again. SQLlite is an application, not an O/S.

      • Peter van Dijk
        March 29, 2018 at 8:46 am

        But that paragraph talks about "every single piece of technology" which is wider than just Operating Systems.

        • Heimen Stoffels
          March 29, 2018 at 4:05 pm

          I'm pretty sure he's talking about hardware technology. So if you count all hardware technology and what runs on it, then Linux will come out on top.

  10. Rainfactor
    March 28, 2018 at 2:50 am

    Is this some kind of apology after that biased half assed piece you wrote on why Windows is so much superior compared to Linux or you have had an epiphany? ??
    You should try Linux sometimes Dan, it is like people say, FUN to use !! ?