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Non-Commercial Linux Use on The Rise

New data released this week from research firm Evans Data shows that non-commercial Linux distribution use has passed the inflection point and is now more widely used by developers than commercial Linux distributions.

Commercial Linux distros are those that are available for a fee, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Enterprise Linux Server and Mandriva (formerly Mandrake). They typically bundle a "boxed" product with support, as well as non-open source licensed applications and/or drivers as part of the mix.

Non-commercial, or free, Linux distributions include Debian and Gentoo, which are developed by the "community" and made available as non-commercial products. Red Hat (through its Fedora Core project), SUSE and Mandriva also offer non-commercial versions.

The new data shows a sharp reversal for commercial Linux growth in the development over the past two years. According to Evans Data's numbers in 2003, 39 percent of respondents to its development survey indicated that they were using a commercial Linux distro, as opposed to 19 percent that were using non-commercial.

Six months ago, the two categories were virtually tied, with commercial use at 308 percent and non-commercial at 29 percent. The February 2005 survey has non-commercial use in the lead at 34 percent, while commercial Linux distribution usage is at 28 percent.

The survey also found that users were drawn to commercial Linux distributions in the past for technical support. Though over the last six months, 25 percent fewer developers indicated that support was still the biggest advantage commercial distros had over non-commercial versions.

In fact, according to the February data, 20 percent of developers don't think that there "are any advantages to a commercial version over a non-commercial version." On the flipside, 85 percent of developers now feel that non-commercial Linux distros' greatest advantages are ease of use and cost of maintenance and upgrades.

"The sharp drop off of belief in 'support' being the biggest advantage is another strong indicator of the quality of the non-commercial offerings, said John F. Andrews, COO of Evans Data, in a statement.

Evans Data also explained the shift as part of the overall maturation of Linux, as well as the improving knowledge base of Linux developers.

"As the general knowledge base of Linux has increased, developers are less reliant on formal models of support," Evans Data states. "Simply put, today they have a much better chance of finding solutions online."

Evans Data notes that the non-commercial distros may also be growing due to their appeal as part of the "purist" definition of open source, i.e. they are free and utilize only free and open source software.