Why does MX Linux rank so well on Distrowatch? But then not on Google Trends?

For several months now, MX Linux has had a #1 ranking on Distrowatch. What gives?

Of course, Distrowatch is a poor way to gauge the popularity of a distro, but people often still look there none the less for a quick gauge of popularity. It’s like they can’t stop themselves.

If I go to Google Trends, and pit Ubuntu Operating System, Linux Mint Operating System, Debian GNU/Linux software, and MX Linux Operating System against each other, look at how MX Linux (the green line) gets crushed by the others:

Also, how do we explain that Ubuntu (the blue line) gets the highest rank in Google Trends by FAR, but only gets ranked as number 5 (currently) on Distrowatch?

My thoughts are this: distrowatch.com basically gauges popularity by hit ranking. I think Linux users can be boiled down to two camps at the most simplistic analysis (bear with me here)… 1) Those who care about Linux and are interested in distro-hopping, checking the green grass of other distros, contributing to projects, evangelizing their favorite projects, etc. and 2) Those for whom it’s simply a tool to get work done. I have been in each camp (and often both) at various times in the 20+ years I have been a Linux user and advocate. In that 2nd crowd specifically, there are many, many, many users who have never used more than one or two distributions or whatever is officially sanctioned by their company. Typically one of Ubuntu, Red Hat, Amazon Linux, CentOS. They know very little history of Linux nor do they care. They don’t even care about desktop environments having no use for them. This is not a criticism by the way. As I said, I have been in this camp. Need a server? Spin up an instance of Debian and “apt-get install” my needed thing (how new does a web server, dns server, reverse proxy, etc. need to be?) turn on auto-updates if you’re brave and move on to the next project. Is distro X better? Maybe but who cares? Debian gets the job done with minimal fuss and just works. This is not a pitch for Debian or any other distro. I am simply saying that distrowatch is (as you stated) not a true reflection of the Linux instances truly in use. I suspect the Google Trends is based more on generic mentions across the web. Whatever distrowatch says, I believe the versions of Linux in most widespread use (thus popularity) BY FAR are the ones with built-in support from AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud and maybe Digital Ocean. I think it’s as simple as that. If you look at the sheer volume of documentation across the web for, e.g., Ubuntu or CentOS (good or bad) I think it bears what I am saying out. My two cents in novel format. :slight_smile:


I think what you say @Jp7x7 makes a lot of sense. Also I think there seems to often be a “trendy must-try distro” in the community which (temporarily at least) draws a large amount of attention from the community amongst those who like to hop. A while ago, as far distrowatch counts go, this seemed to be Manjaro, now it seems to be MX. People have their own reasons for diversifying and trying new things. To an extent I do believe it supports innovation. My guess is it won’t be long before some other distro takes the distrowatch top spot.


Agree, I stay on Ubuntu since 2008, because it is boringly reliable. I use a Virtualbox to look at other distros say 2-4 times per year.


I’m not sure how tricky Virtualbox is to setup under Linux, but I’ve been using Boxes under Gnome and finding it very easy and very fast.

Virtualbox is quite straightforward to set up, and I have been using it for many years. I’ve tried Gnome Boxes and could not get it to work for me. That may have been due to not being on a Gnome install so as I have 19.10 Gnome installed for testing on this laptop I will give it another go.

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Update: I just installed Mint 19.2 as a virtual PC in GNOME Boxes in Ubuntu 19.10 and it was flawless. It looks like my previous issues with GNOME Boxes was because I was running it on another DE. So if you are running Gnome and want an alternative VM to VirtualBox go give GNOME Boxes a try.

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@ Jp7x7 I think you are spot on mostly. What do you think though about the following re: the quoted line.

I wonder if there are a good number of people who do “care” about Linux, work in highly technical fields, have vocations, passions, or worldviews that mean they use a much loved distro every day. These people know the history, actually like their DE imperfect though it may be (as they all must me). They know and appreciate all the background and unseen work that gives them a safe powerful working environment but it is just that, a working environment that doesn’t need changed.

See what I mean about agreeing, except for the words “don’t know” and “don’t care”. Like you, not a criticism, but if we were setting down for a cup of coffee, that’s what I would have said.

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DistroWatch ranking list has NOTHING to do with rankings which is why I wish they would just change the name. It used to just becalled “Rankings” and now its “Page Hit Rankings”, this is an improvement but they should remove the term Ranking altogether and call it what it is . . . a “trending” list.

So why is it popular on DistroWatch and not Google Trends? DistroWatch tracks itself and only itself. If you go to the MX page on DistroWatch then that counts towards MX listing and supposedly if you go to DistroWatch using MX it also counts that. I am not sure if thats true but that is what I was told by someone with DW.

On the other hand, Google tracks basically the whole internet looking for what people are talking about and yes MX has grown a TON in popularity but outside of the Linux community it is still a small fish in a enormous pond.


So if DistroWatch only tracks itself, what’s to stop a distro maintainer from creating a bot that ups their count on the site?

I don’t know if DistroWatch does this or not but you can detect a bot in many ways such as frequency of hits and even IP address so it could be fairly easily ignored or blocked if they wanted to.


It’s kind of humbling for me to realize that for all my distro hopping, at the end of the day, I can’t really stray far from Ubuntu, because that’s sort of become the center of gravity in the Linux world, when it comes to support for 3rd party proprietary software in Linux (and there’s always one or two such packages I want to install).

Maybe put another way, now that Ubuntu has a large majority of Linux users, it will create a strong incentive for Ubuntu to be the primary landing place for all the big-league, 3rd party software, as they make an entrance into the world of Linux for the first time (unless they go straight to packaging using container, snap, flatpak or appImage, but historically these have come secondary to some kind of native install).