David A. Wheeler's Blog

Sat, 02 Apr 2005

April 2, 2005 release of “Why OSS/FS? Look at the Numbers!”

I’ve posted an update of “Why Open Source Software / Free Software (OSS/FS, FLOSS, FOSS)? Look at the Numbers!”

The biggest change? I’ve added a large set of studies about the market penetration of the Mozilla web browsers (primarily the newer Mozilla Firefox, but the older Mozilla suite is also in use), as compared to Internet Explorer (IE). A multitude of studies show that IE is losing market share, while OSS/FS web browsers (particularly Firefox) are gaining market share. Sources of data include general market surveys like WebSideStory, OneStat, Information Week/Net Applications, thecounter.com, and quotationspage.com, as well as more specialized sources such as W3Schools (web developers) and Ars Technica (computer technologists). The figure below extracts data from several sources (there are far more in my paper than I can legibly show), but they all show the market trend over time. The red squares are Internet Explorer’s market share (all versions), and the blue circles are the combination of the older Mozilla suite and the newer Mozilla Firefox web browser (both of which are OSS/FS):

Web Browser Market Share (Wheeler Summary) - IE is losing market share while Mozilla Firefox gains market share

The data seems to show a small, gradual trend in the general web browsing community, with a much larger and more rapid move towards Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox in the home user, technical, web development, and blogging communities. In some cases (such as the Ars Technica technical site and the Boing Boing blog site), Firefox has become the leading web browser! That’s interesting particularly because it can be easily argued that the technical, web development, and blogging communities are leading indicators; these are the developers of the web sites you’ll see tomorrow and some of the heaviest users of the web, all making a switch.

One study not shown in the figure above (because it’s a single point of data) is from XitiMonitor. They surveyed a sample of websites used on a Sunday (March 6, 2005), totalling 16,650,993 visits, and categorized various European users. By surveying on Sunday, they intended to primarily find out what people choose to use, from their homes. Of the German users, an astonishing 21.4% were using Firefox. The other countries surveyed were France (12.2%), England (10.9%), Spain (9%), and Italy (8.6%). Here is the original XitiMonitor study of 2005-03-06, an automated translation of the XitiMonitor study, and a blog summary of the XitiMonitor study observing that, “Web sites aiming at the consumer have [no] other choice but [to make] sure that they are compatible with Firefox … Ignoring compatibility with Firefox and other modern browsers does not make sense business-wise.”

I analyzed this data to determine that 13.3% of European home users were using Firefox on this date in March 2005. How can I justify that figure? Well, we can use these major European countries as representatives of Europe as a whole; they’re certainly representative of western Europe, since they’re the most populous countries. Presuming that the vast majority of Sunday users are home users is quite reasonable for Europe. We can then make the reasonable presumption that the number of web browser users is proportional to the general population. Then we just need to get the countries’ populations; I used the CIA World Fact Book updated to 2005-02-10. These countries’ populations (in millions) are, in the same order as above, 82, 60, 60, 40, and 58; calculating (21.4%*82 + 12.2%*60 + 10.9%*60 + 9%*40 + 8.6%*58) / (82+60+60+40+58) yields 13.3%. This is something you won’t find on other pages; this is new analysis unique to my paper.

For all the detail on web browser market surveys, see http://www.dwheeler.com/oss_fs_why.html#browser-marketshare.

And yes, I’ve made lots of other improvements to the paper. Here are a few examples:

  1. I made a number of small improvements to the government section. For example, I expanded the introductory section, and I added a reference to the collection of essays “Government Policy toward Open Source Software” I noted that many governments like the ability to internationalize their software. I also noted that the United States’ Federal Enterprise Architecture includes the Technical Reference Model (TRM), and TRM version 1.1 (August 2003) includes both Linux and Apache.
  2. Added a reference to happy customers of Microsoft’s OSS/FS WiX project — even Microsoft finds that this OSS/FS seems to work for them.
  3. I added a reference to a book on OSS/FS licensing, Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing by Andrew M. St. Laurent.
  4. Added references to Lessig’s “Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace”
  5. I added a discussion about Visual Basic for .NET, aka Visual Fred. This is a particularly shocking example: here we have a proprietary vendor who is essentially abandoning a common, widely-used product, even after there’s been a public outcry. The “new” Visual Basic is completely incompatible with the old version of Visual Basic, so different that people now call the new version “Visual Fred”. There’s no practical upgrade path; Visual Basic programs have to be essentially rewritten to use the “new” version, and about 2/3 of current Visual Basic programmers end up switching to a new language (not Visual Fred, which is just as proprietary and risky as the previous Visual Basic). Everyone knows that if a proprietary company goes out of business, people who depend on their software will be in trouble. But people often forget that a proprietary company can choose to go in a different direction for their own reasons, even if that will cost you billions of dollars… and there’s little you can do about it if there are no alternatives. This is a good cautionary tale about why people should choose languages that are standardized with multiple vendors or have a viable OSS/FS implementation; that way, users have a way to continue maintenance if the original developer decides to go in a way against the users’ interests. Depending on a proprietary computer language, with a single proprietary implementation, has been known to be a risky decision for decades. Unfortunately, it appears that this lesson never really gets learned.
  6. Added information on an unintentional reliability study done by Heinz Trober.
  7. Added a quote from Unisys’ Steve Rawsthorn. Years ago Unisys was a strong holdout against supporting Linux, compared to most companies. But Unisys found that they were repeatedly losing competitive bids to other companies who did support Linux. Finally, Unisys decided to support Linux systems because they wanted to be able to make money; Linux was what their potential customers wanted to buy. Hmm, supporting Linux so that you can make money? Now that’s a reason for doing something that everyone understands!
  8. I’ve improved the text explaining the Fuzz results, and added a chart to make their results clearer. This is all part of the reliability section.
  9. And a trivial change: clarified that “GPL” stands for the “GNU General Public License”. There are other “General Public Licenses” out there, but everyone means the GNU license unless otherwise stated. That way, I can just say “GPL” and appeal to the definition at the top of the paper, which clarifies that it’s the GNU version.

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