Some publications stirred the bee's hive when they cited Distrowatch ratings as an indicator that Ubuntu is losing it's popularity to LinuxMint and other Linux-based distributions.
One needs to be extremely careful while taking into account Distrowatch's ratings because that is not the 'goal' or 'purpose' of Distrowatch. It provides info about the latest releases. Period.
Ladislav Bodnar, the founder of DW has clearly stated that, “I'd like to believe that there is some truth in the figures, but in all honesty, they really don't mean all that much and should not be taken very seriously.”
However, according to Wikipedia, “DistroWatch's statistics are often cited as a guide to the popularity of various distributions. Its "page hit counter" has been called "the best 'barometer' of Linux distributions on the Internet".
Interestingly, Ubuntu 'officially' 'refers' to Distrowatch pointing that Ubuntu is the #1 OS.
According to Distrowatch.com, Ubuntu has long been the world's most popular GNU/Linux distribution for desktop users. [Ubuntu.com]
Ubuntu has quickly become a leading distribution in the free software world, taking the #1 place in DistroWatch popularity rankings over all timescales which are published. [Ubuntu.com]
So, while its OK to refer to Distrowatch when Ubuntu is on top, but the moment it slides down, Distrowatch becomes meaningless and useless?
I don't think the leadership of Ubuntu shares the same 'arrogance' that Ubuntu hooligans share. Mark Shuttleworth in fact praised LinuxMint for their achievement on Distrowatch, "Kudos to mint for the jump in ratings, I'm glad ubuntu has great derivatives, and I'm confidence unity will remain the #1 desktop environment for years to come."
Distrowatch Doesn't Matter
Distrowatch ratings do not reflect a lot of stats and these are very important stats. It doesn't reflect how many downloads. It doesn't reflect the total user-base of a particular OS. It doesn't reflect the traffic to the official site of that distro. It doesn't reflect how many users are upgrading. There are many such important stats which Distrowatch ratings don't give and don't intend to give.
Do these stats matter? Yes, that's what matters the most to gauge the popularity or user-base of any distribution. But since Distrowatch doesn't reflect any of these stats it should 'not' be considered at a barometer for the same.
Those who are calling Distrowatch 'useless' or 'incorrect' plainly don't know what is Distrowatch. Attacking 'Distrowatch' and calling it 'useless' just because it shows LinuxMint is now rated higher than Ubuntu is shooting the messenger for telling the direction of the wind. Please don't drag 'respected' sites like Distrowatch in your fan-boyish mud-slinging.
These fan-boys are hurting the entire Linux community. They are belittling the efforts of the LinuxMint team by making it an Ubuntu vs LinuxMint death match. I believe a majority of these fan-boys may not even know what Debian is, because Canonical doesn't even mention Debian anywhere on its site, not even on About Ubuntu page.
Doesn't that hurt the Debian community? Do they come out attacking Ubuntu? No. Because this is not what the Open Source is all about. The 'source' of open source is mutual growth and development. The 'code' of open source is to pick what you need and build on top of it – complementing each other.
Yes, there are disagreement among communities. These differences are the reason why they work on different projects to address the same problem. Despite these differences the goal is to develop and offer user with a better experience. There has never been such a dirty mud-slinging as we see on pro-Ubuntu fan-boyish blogs.
DistroWatch Does Matter
As I mentioned above that Distrowatch is not an indicator of quite a lot of important stats, that doesn't mean it should be ignored. Distrowatch is in fact an indicator of something extremely important, something very important. An indicator that people are looking for the alternatives of Ubuntu.
Let's see who reads Distrowatch? In my personal opinion most new and enthusiastic Linux users don't even know what is Distrowatch. They get to know about Linux by some friend and get the DVD/CD to try and then once they know the name of the distribution they start visiting the site of that distro and they start reading more about it. A typical Ubunty user will visit Ubuntu.com and not Distrowatch to download the OS.
So, who goes to Distrowatch? I believe that a majority of Distrowatch readers are those who are in a way seasoned Linux users, who have changed the boats couple of times. These are the users who know where to look for the right info. These are the ones who influence others. There are those users who organize Linux install fest every month. There users have contributed heavily to the growth and popularity of operating systems like Ubuntu. Ubuntu owes a lot to such users.
These are very important users.
And this users is now looking else where. This user is now looking for alternatives. He is hunting Distrowatch to find something 'else', something not Ubuntu. This user is clicking on the Distrowatch pages of LinuxMint, openSUSE, Fedora, Zorin... This is THE user who is responsible for the 'decline' of Ubuntu on Distrowatch.
So, while Distrowatch doesn't reflect those metrics about downloads, traffic and user-base, it is indicating at a very important shift.
Old Ubuntu Users Are Fleeing
Ubuntu fans need to understand that stifling criticism is not going to help. It's only going to paint the image of Ubuntu as an aggressive, abusive, fan-boyish and immature community. I don't think Canonical wants that image.
I think that Distrowatch's ratings should be taken seriously. Being on #1 spot of DW doesn't mean LinuxMint has bigger install base than Ubuntu. Ubuntu has far, far bigger install base than LinuxMint. But the credit goes to those seasoned Ubuntu users who started using it from the early days. They helped build the vibrant and helpful Ubuntu community – backed by the visions of Mark Shuttleworth.
At the same time we are also witnessing the emergence of a user-base which has popped up like seasonal mushroom only yesterday and has started to sway the development of Ubuntu already. These fan-boyish users are making things worse for Ubuntu. The long-time Ubuntu user is being called 'old-goat'. He is being called 'Unity' hater, ignoring everything that he did in those past 6 years. As a result, the 'loyal' Ubuntu user has started to feel uncomfortable among this new crowd of hooligans. Gone are the days of the 'friendly' Ubuntu community, now its better to keep your mouth shut if you want to say anything against Ubuntu or you will be attacked by hooligans.
Sadly, I don't think these hooligans care about Ubuntu any more than they care about their screen-savers – they just want a new one everyday.
The 'traditional' Ubuntu user is being marginalised by such fan-boys in the same community that he built, and he is looking elsewhere. He is looking at LinuxMint. He is looking at Fedora. He is looking at openSUSE.
Distrowatch is simply showing what he 'is' looking at.
Does that matter? Not to cheerleaders. But, I think, it should matter to Canonical.