How many GNU/Linux users are there? (guesses & predictions)
There is no way of knowing exactly how many people use GNU/Linux nor how many computers run GNU/Linux desktops. That's the whole point of freedom, users don't have to tell anybody that they are using a free OS, users do not register and nobody is tracked. It would be interesting though to know roughly what order of magnitude we are talking about and there are some statistics that can give us a hint. The main statistics we have are Linux counters (see links below) and the percentage of GNU/Linux operating systems browsing the Internet (see links). These shares and trends are all predictions but anyway, interesting to take a look at.
Linux counter guesstimates about 21.5 million users based on circa 130.000 registered users (linuxcounter.net, 10/2011) but this number could be anywhere from 2,5 million up to 65 million users.
The average of Internet browsing statistics from several sources estimates that GNU/Linux operating systems represent 1.11% of the total web traffic. If we add Android to this number (since Android has a kernel based on Linux and most of the OS is Free Software) then we have 2.25% of browsing share for Linux all together. This number vary from 0.74% for StatOwl on august 2011 to 5.2% for w3schools for the same period. Gartner expects the GNU/Linux share to remain under 2% for the next several years (gcn.com).
This is a pure guess but we could say that there are approximately 1,5 billion computers in use today (about 1 billion in 2008 and an estimated 2 billion by 2014 according to Gartner, so we should be about half of the way or more). In this case the 1.11% of GNU/Linux computers browsing the web would be something like 16,650,000 or more machines. Counting Android devices this number jumps to 33,750,000 or more Linux-based operating systems browsing the web.
There are interesting data regarding the shares per country and per region. Cuba, for example, leads with 6.33% GNU/Linux shares in their own market but South America has only 0.88%. Macedonia is the leading european country with 2.8% and Europe altogether is the leading region with 1.14% according to Statcounter alone (pingdom.com).
Another difficulty is that we have no way of knowing how many users there are for each computer. Sometimes one computer will be used by an entire family, sometimes one individual has an entire family of computers. We also have to consider that most GNU/Linux users have another OS available and might use it to browse the web.
The increase of registered users at linuxcounter.net are of about 15,000 users per year, meaning that it could be a total increase of 600,000 new users per year.
The browsing trends are really hard to follow but most of them show a global increase of GNU/Linux OSs. From the different sources of web statistics we observe that GNU/Linux shares increase roughly from 0,1% (netmarketshare.com) to 0,5% (w3schools.com) each year. This increase could be from new machines entering the market as well as old machines switching to GNU/Linux. There is no point, really, in trying to know exactly how many users there are, but while we're at it, let's do some wild predictions!