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May 10, 2010
A few weeks ago, we took a look at how Ubuntu use varied by country. I’m still on a bit of a demographic kick, so I decided to do some research on another pertinent topic: the median age of Ubuntu users. Here’s what I found.
Lest the over-enthusiastic reader scroll down looking for hard numbers or a definitive conclusion regarding the age of the “average” Ubuntu user, I should make clear that, as with all data involving who exactly uses Ubuntu, precise figures remain elusive.
The numbers for the median age of Ubuntu users that I was able to gather are only approximations. In any case, they’d probably be impossible to prove, given the decentralized way in which Ubuntu is currently distributed.
With the caveat above in mind, let’s take a look at the median age of Ubuntu users, at least as they are represented on the Ubuntu Forums.
There have been a couple of polls on the forums measuring users’ age. Problematically, however, both have a small sample size, and the samples are self-selected; moreover, they represent only members of the forum community, which is likely not exemplary of Ubuntu’s user base as a whole.
To the extent that they are representative of at least a part of the Ubuntu community, however, the polls suggest that the greatest number of Ubuntu users are between 20 and 30 years old–which would have been my hunch.
Notably, however, one of the data sets from the Ubuntu Forums implies that a not-insignificant portion of the community is older than 50. That conclusion is backed up by anecdotal evidence of the presence of seniors among a group where we might not expect to find many, given that they were contemplating retirement before Linux even hit the desktop.
Different authors have written about why Linux can work for the elderly, and an “Ubuntu for Seniors” project has even been registered on Launchpad, although it appears dormant. Nonetheless, the retired crowd seems to be an important part of the Ubuntu demographic, even though it may often be overlooked.
Another important age group within the Ubuntu community is the one in between the two sets discussed above: people in their 30s and 40s.
I say this is an important range because it includes some of the community’s most prominent leaders. Mark Shuttleworth, born in September 1973, is 36. Jane Silber, Canonical CEO, graduated from college in 1985, which would probably put her in her mid-40s.
In addition, another Ubuntu Forums thread on age, while reinforcing the conclusion that a majority of users are in their 20s or close to it, there are a substantial number of outliers in their 40s and 50s.
It’s impossible–for me, and probably even for Canonical–to come up with solid figures for the median age of Ubuntu users. But the data above hopefully provide some hints.
And these numbers matter. Just as it’s important to understand how the Ubuntu community breaks down according to nationality, it’s also useful to know how old most of us are if we plan on fulfilling Shuttleworth’s dream of putting Ubuntu on every PC.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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