October 8, 2003

NewsForge readers pick their favorite desktop Linux apps

- by Joe Barr -
A recent NewsForge story carried a list of my top 10 favorite desktop apps and asked readers to name theirs. More than a hundred readers responded with their own lists, which included more than 250 different applications. Here are the surprising results.

First, how did we tabulate the responses? We counted both raw votes for applications and their ranking in the reader's lists. The top app on the list got 10 points, the second app got 9 points, and so on. For ballots with more than 10 apps we simply dropped the extras. For ballots with fewer than 10 we followed the same rules as for a complete ballot but of course awarded no points at all for the missing positions. For ballots which proclaimed the list was in no particular order, we used the order they were given in with the first app noted being at the top of the list.

We threw out votes that were cast for applications that didn't run on Linux. We also tossed votes for distributions; yes, we got one vote for gentoo as a desktop app. Just about anything else was accepted, including desktop environments, window managers, X itself, shells, and Emacs, which many people consider a complete OS all by itself. Where the same app received votes for multiple releases or packaging, we consolidated.

Once we had all the results in a gnumeric spreadsheet, we could slice them and dice them in a number of ways. We ended up with three different top 10 lists -- one is based on the total number of votes each app received, another on the total number of points those votes earned, and the third ordered by the number of top picks an app earned.

And the winners are...

In the first top 10 list, based solely on how many times an app was voted for by NewsForge readers, the results were:

1. OpenOffice.org (50 votes)
2. XMMS (49 votes)
3. Mozilla (44 votes)
4. The GIMP (35 votes)
5. Konqueror (29 votes)
6. Vi/Vim (28 votes)
7. Mplayer (26 votes)
8. Gaim (24 votes)
9. Evolution (22 votes)
10. Emacs/Xemacs (16 votes)

The thing that surprised me the most about the first top 10 list was the appearance of both Vi and Emacs. Perhaps it is an anamoly attributable to the legendary food-fights between users of the two programs, or maybe they really are that popular with NewsForge readers. Whatever, they are not the apps that spring to my mind when I think of the Linux desktop.

The KDE/Gnome rivalry is almost as storied as the battles between Vi and Emacs. I was glad to see to see that both were represented with classy applications (Konqueror and Evolution) in the top 10.

The next list ranks the top 10 apps based on the points they earned:

1. OpenOffice.org (277 points)
2. Mozilla (263 points)
3. XMMS (262 points)
4. The GIMP (216 points)
5. Konqueror (168 points)
6. Vi/Vim (168 points)
7. Mplayer (156 points)
8. Gaim (144 points)
9. Emacs/Xemacs (139 points)
10. Evolution (124 points)

There were no major differences between this list and the first, and only small variations in the order. Mozilla and Emacs each moved up a notch while Xmms and Evolution moved down one.

The final list, ordered by the number of times they were the first pick on the ballot, was:

1. Mozilla (18 times)
2. Konqueror (11 times)
3. Emacs/Xemacs (9 times)
4. Vi/Vim (6 times)
5. Evolution (4 times)
6. Firebird (4 times)
7. Mplayer (3 times)
8. Kmail (3 times)
9. Opera (3 times)
10. Xterm (2 times)

Look how Emacs/Xemacs jumped up here. Folks who liked those apps liked them plenty. Four of the apps on this list didn't appear at all on the first two: Firebird, Kmail, Opera, and Xterm. OpenOffice.org, Gaim, the GIMP, and XMMS dropped off to make room for them.

Those of you who have been using or following Linux for a while may remember that in 1999, all the talk about Mozilla was of the failure of the project and perhaps the failure of the open source model as well. The low point seemed to be Jamie Zawinski's resignation from the project.

Now look at Mozilla. NewsForge readers picked it in the top three spots in all three rankings. Not only that, but a spin-off project (Firebird) also appears on one of the top 10 lists. If the Mozilla project represents the fate of the open source movement, I think it is safe to say that we are on pretty solid footing at this point.

Scattered observations

As I tabulated the results, looking at list after list, it became easier and easier to tell if the reader was a programmer, a sysadmin, a network security specialist, or simply a modern Linux user with mainstream wants and needs for his desktop. There was a healthy mix of games, P2P applications, instant messaging, and multimedia applications besides the apps appearing in the top 10 lists.

Opera is the only closed-source app to appear on any of the top 10 lists. Microsoft may talk about eating its own dog food, but it's clear that NewsForge readers who use Linux are really satisfied with what they find in the world of free/open source software.

I also ran across a number of apps that I had never heard of before, but that I now want to try based on the comments of the readers who voted for them. All and all, this interaction between readers and writer has been both an interesting and an educational experience.


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