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What’s up with market share?

I was thinking the other day, why is market share so important?  I read various articles saying Linux has X market share, Mac has Y market share, and Windows has Z market share.  I would like to throw the following question out to the masses.  Who cares?  The pie is large enough in this industry that it doesn’t really matter.  Especially when you look at this on a global scale.  If I was producing something in an industry this size, I would be thrilled to have 0.01 percent market share.  I understand that market share is extremely useful in determining growth of any product, but in this case I seriously don’t think it matters all that much beyond a growth measurement.  Right now it is very difficult to quantify which operating systems are being used the most.  We can’t count sales (there are many free operating systems.)  We can’t count downloads (one person could download it multiple times.)  We can’t even count website visits (my blog is visited more under Ubuntu Linux than any other operating system.)

So could someone tell me why it is so important to try to expend all of this energy on market share calculations?  Isn’t market share simply supposed to tell us if there is an increase or a decline in a particular product’s use?  Relative accuracy is important while complete accuracy is not.  If you measure using the same tool each time and see a growth, then you can be confident that a growth has occurred.  Expending all of this energy on trying to calculate the exact number of Linux users isn’t going to really benefit everyone.  Let’s try to focus on actually making good products and having them speak for themselves.

Now before everyone starts to call me a zealot and a person that’s just upset that linux has a small market share, let me say one more thing.  Everything has started with a small market share, and it hasn’t mattered before.  Any new product starts small.  Any new service starts small.  That’s the point!  They don’t start out saying “We have 0% market penetration so we have failed.”  What they do instead is look at what overhead they can afford and build their business around that.  I ran an open source business for a while, and had a very small market share, but I lived quite comfortably.  Market share isn’t the be-all, end-all, it is just one of many tools that companies can use to determine if they are growing or shrinking.  It isn’t some magical tool that tells them if they are successful.

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