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Ubuntu developer Michael Hall has questioned the latest data from Distrowatch, which suggests that it is slipping in popularity when compared to rivals such as Linux Mint.

Last week figures from Distrowatch showed that Ubuntu was down in fourth place as the most visited Linux distribution portal, having previously topped the charts. Linux Mint was the most popular site, ahead of Fedora and openSUSE.

Hall, now employed by Canonical but speaking in a personal capacity, explained in a blog post that the figures on Distrowatch, while handy, aren’t an accurate guide to the actual number of users a particular build has. For example, he points out, Red Hat is 42nd on the list, but has a much larger installed base than that ranking would indicate. The figures are useful for gauging interest, but nothing more, Hall suggests.

“When The Register and PC World run articles about you being on top, their readers will naturally visit your Distrowatch page, further increasing your rank, which will in turn prompt more stories about it, sending more people to your page,” he said. “While I have no doubt that Mint deserves the top spot (more on that below), I think the amount of its increase has been affected by this positive feedback loop. This cyclic reaction will likely continue for a few weeks until people finally get bored with the story, at which point I expect Mint’s numbers to fall back down.”

Linux Mint's interest numbers may fall by a third he warned, but market data suggests it has been gaining both users and interest after it made the decision not to abandon the GNOME 2 interface in its new update – which has proved so popular with Linux users – and move to GNOME 3, which has been criticized by Linus Torvalds and others. The latest build of Linux Mint, version 12, was also launched over the weekend, adding to the influx of people seeking information on the build.

Hall said he had no doubt Linux Mint has momentum, in part due to its decision on interface support, but this doesn’t translate directly into installations. The challenge for Linux Mint now is to transform interest into hard users, he concludes. ®

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