This graph represents Google search volume for Ubuntu (the OS) from 2004 until now, 2017.
Looking at the image it us hard to not conclude one thing: that interest in Ubuntu has peaked.
But has it?
I think there are a couple of possible reasons why people Google for information on or about Ubuntu less than they used to.
And most of those reasons are actually positive.
1. Ubuntu got boring
Ubuntu (as a desktop OS) is fairly stale.
It’s uneventful and it’s predictable.
Don’t get me wrong: hat isn’t necessarily a criticism, but an observation. The days of big desktop innovations like web-app integration, the HUD, or the (rather controversial) introduction of Smart Scopes, etc seem long gone. Ubuntu has neatly settled into a two year LTS-focused cadence that favours reliability and stability over change for changes’ sake.
But in doing that it’s only natural that curiosity and interest will wane too.
The Unity 7 desktop is effectively mothballed. We know that. It gets a few new bug fixes every 6 months, and occasionally adds the odd “missing” feature.
But it’s reliable and it’s dependable.
Work continues on Unity 8, of course, but as this effort is largely a “catch up affair”, with hands tasked to create a new desktop experience that has all the features of the one we already have. That’s not enough to get people excited.
2. It Now “Just Works”
Back when I started using Ubuntu I had to Google for help to fix, tweak and fine-tune various parts of my install, from graphics to Wi-Fi card.
Today most of that effort isn’t required. Advances in Ubuntu (more specifically in the Linux kernel/ecosystem in general) means that Linux OSes has never run better out of the box than they do today.
Bugs have been fixed and major issues ironed out.
And less issues means less time spent Googling for solutions.
Also, people are used to Unity 7 now. They don’t need to turn to a search engine to see what’s new, or learn how to do something in it. They know how to use it and what to expect. Experiential complacency has a cumulative impact on interest.
3. Expectations have shifted (i.e the rise of mobile)
You can track the decline of interest in all desktop operating systems with the rise of the smartphone. Whether against the Apple iPhone or Google’s Linux-based Android: plot smartphones and any desktop OS on a graph and you’ll see one rise as the other falls.
It is like a well choreographed chorus line in a musical about computing history.
The fact is people expect their phone to do more, and their PC to do less. The PC is reverted back to being a tool more associated with work.
Even the desktop OS market leader in Windows has declining interest, despite a botched Windows 8 and the well publicised Windows 10:
4. Ubuntu Phone Didn’t Help
Another thing the graph seems to show: Ubuntu Phone did little to attract significant interest or turn the tide — and in a mobile-first world (see the point above) you might have expected it to do that.
There were spikes around time of the Edge crowdfunding campaign and the launch of the first Ubuntu Phone there are small spikes, but each subsequent Ubuntu Phone announcement/release drew less and less interest.
Was user enthusiasm cooled by the lukewarm reviews given to the first batch of devices? Did Ubuntu phone offer too little, too late, to an audience — a technically savvy developer audience, remember — that needed for a more sophisticated reason to switch than “it’s not Android”?
Beyond the mad mobile ambitions (which thankfully bore some success in the form of Snappy) Ubuntu is still host to a thriving ecosystem of developers.
What Do You Think?
This article represents a few off the cuff thoughts about a single graph — nothing more. It’s a latte’s worth of mumbling, not a takedown. To reiterate: I’m not saying Ubuntu is doomed/dead/dying because more people search for pokemon go tips than ask “what is an Ubuntu?”/
I intend this to be conversation starter that we can continue in the comments, so please do chime in with your take on the supposed declining trend in the space below. Do keep our Code of Conduct in mind when doing so, though.
Whether you’ve switched to a different distribution, spend less time tweaking your PC, or advocate for both more than ever: we want to know what you think.