Non-technical reasons for why Linux has a larger open source market share than FreeBSD

It is not always about who is better. Often an equal or better candidate loses for reasons that should not apply. This is true for many areas (politics for example) where what matters is overlooked by our humanity. So whether one operating system is technically better than the other is not the only factor for choosing it. Linux is the most used open source operating system and has a larger market share than FreeBSD (OS X not included). This article takes a look at some other reasons one might choose Linux over FreeBSD.

Note: This article also is not taking into account OS X, which while it has some foundations is BSD, is not open source, and this article is to discuss open source market share. Due to OS X, FreeBSD could make the claim that they have a larger market share than Linux.

Reason #1 Advertising

The bottom line to advertising is that Linux has it in quantities and FreeBSD doesn’t.


For FreeBSD, there is very little, if any, advertising. I have never seen any ad on any media type for FreeBSD.

Linux has multiple enterprise size companies, Red Hat, SUSE (previously Novel), IBM, and others that are advertising it and using it. Linux is advertised by these companies quite heavily.


There are a few user’s groups here and there and that is about it. FreeBSD has no little buzz marketing.

Linux has a lot of buzz. There is no questioning the buzz that was created by Ubuntu that still exists. Thanks to distros like Ubuntu, Linux has an extreme amount of buzz.

What is being done?

Over the past couple of years, iXSystems has provided an increase in advertising. Also the new BSD Magazine is another form of advertising that is beneficial.

Reason #2 – Brand name and Logo

A brand name has the ability to make or break an organization. A logo has this same ability. Why? Because they are the embodiment of the company. They provide the first impressions (don’t tell me you haven’t heard that saying about first impressions) and often the only impression.

And how it sounds is extremely important.

Think about it. Some people want to sound cool when they say the operating system they run.

  • “I run Linux!”
  • “I run FreeBSD!”
I have heard people say it many times: Linux as a word just sounds cooler than FreeBSD. Well, lets actually look at from a more scientific point of view than “just sounds cooler”.  Let look at reasons

The linguistics of a brand name

Linguistic experts have studied brand names and there are many “best practices” for a brand name, and FreeBSD follows none of them. Because of this, FreeBSD is not a good brand name. It is not even average. In fact, if you were to make a list of below average brand name, FreeBSD would reside near the bottom of the bad list, and here is why.

The goal of a looking at a brand name from a linguistics point of view is to find ways to make the brand easy to say, descriptive, and memorable . A brand name is poetry and all the linguistic elements that benefit or distract from poetry can benefit or distract from a brand name. Here are ten linguistic suggestions for having a good brand name.

  1. Use alliteration in your brand name.
  2. Use equal or more harmonious consonants than cacophonous sounds. Some consonants make sounds that are “in-between” such as F. A letter such as X has two sounds, K and S.
  3. Syllables. Two or three syllables is ideal. One doable too. Four is possible if other items in this list are good. Five syllables and above your pretty much a bad brand name.
  4. Use the correct “foot“. Use disyllables such as pyrrhic, iamb,  trochee, but avoid spondee; Use trisyllables such as anaepest, credic, dactyl but avoid molossus etc…
  5. Avoid using acronyms.
  6. Vowels should rhyme or match.
  7. Avoid contrasting vowel sounds, such as a long vowel followed immediately by a short vowel.
  8. The place of articulation of each consonant and transitions between them should be easy.
  9. Use a word that can become a noun or verb.
  10. Know definitions of roots, prefixes, and postfixes and use ones that apply to your business.

So lets compare FreeBSD brand to the Linux brand.

Winner FreeBSD Linux Explanation
1 Tie n/a n/a Neither alliterated.
2 Linux Good Bad Linux has three consonants, but one is X which has two consonant sounds K and S. Sot it has, three harmonious, one cacophanous which is a 3-1 ratio.
FreeBSD has five consonants, two cacophonous, two harmonious, one in-between, which is a 2-2-1 ratio.
3 Linux Good Bad Linux is idea having two syllables.
FreeBSD is four syllables and nothing to save it.
4 Linux Good Bad Linux is a single pyrrhic foot.
FreeBSD has two feet and they are same foot, spondee, which is the one you should avoid.
5 Linux Good Bad Linux avoided acronyms, FreeBSD, has a three-letter acronym.
6 Linux Good Average Linux is two short vowels.
FreeBSD has four vowels, three long Es and one short E.
7 Linux n/a Bad Linux has no vowels next to each other.
FreeBSD has a conflict of a long E followed by a short E between the B and S letters.
8 Linux Good Average Linux has the L and N and S sounds all made by very the same mouth parts and positions, well separated by vowels.
FreeBSD has sounds made by various different places and parts in the mouth less easy transistions.
9 Linux Average Bad Linux can be a noun, and I have heard linuxed used before.
FreeBSD is barely passable as a noun and can in no way be verabalized.
10 Tie n/a n/a Linux has no syllables with any dictionary meaning.
FreeBSD has the word “free” which is too general to provide any meaning. The acronyms detracts from the mean further.

If we rated these on a scale of 0 to 5, with bad being 0, average being 3, and Good being 5, here is how the points come out.

  • FreeBSD = 2 points. Two item were N/A, so that is 2 out of 40 possible points or 5% of the possible Good points a brand could have.
  • Linux = 35 points. Three items were N/A, so that is 33 out of 35 possible points or 94% of the possible Good points a brand could have.

As you can see, from a linguistics point of view, FreeBSD is a terrible brand name. If FreeBSD were an enterprise trying to stay alive, the first order of business would be to change the brand name. Also, this analysis proves the obvious, that most of the bad branding stems from the acronym, BSD.

Derivative brand names

Derivatives of Linux, such as Red Hat, and Ubuntu have average or above average brand name as well.  Red Hat is two simple words, though they unfortunately have no meaning for an open source operating system, but as brand name these words are simple and easy to say. Simple and easy.  Ubuntu has meaning, three syllables, matching vowels, though it isn’t exactly easy to say with 2 cacophonous to only one harmonious consonant.  Both of these

Unfortunately, the FreeBSD derivatives don’t get better. The main problem is that more than half of them feel the need to continue to use the BSD acronym in their brand. There reasoning is to show their ties to BSD, but the result is very bad brand names. For example, PC-BSD somehow took a step backward by extending to five syllables, still all accented, and adding one more cacophonous sound. There is no fixing the PC-BSD brand. The only option is a new brand. However, DragonFly BSD can easily be fixed by simply dropping the “BSD” acronym as it is not needed. Alone DragonFly is a good brand. Brands that have dropped the BSD acronym such as m0n0wall or pfSense are adequate brands, not good, not bad. OpenBSD is as bad as PC-BSD with the added negative that the word “open” actually contradicts the security goals of the platform.

As derivative brand names go, Linux derivatives or distros are far ahead of FreeBSD derivatives in brand name quality.

The art of a logo

The logo is every bit as important as the brand name. Lets look at the FreeBSD logo, and the Red Hat logo and compare them.

Here are some logo tips that seemed to be common themes from dozens of sites about tips for making a good logo.

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Make it memorable.
  3. Make sure colors coordinate.
  4. Make sure the logo has a black and white version.
  5. Color psychology. Avoid having the logo be mostly one color that may be negative.
  6. Don’t stray far from a simply decorated version of the company name.
  7. Make the logo an image that is pertinent to the brand.
  8. Avoid offensive images, even if only offensive to a small portion of the population.

One might argue that the Tux, the penguin, and Beastie, the devil or demon, are both part logo and part mascot so we will look at those, first.


Winner Linux FreeBSD Explanation
1 Tie Bad Bad Neither the penguin or Beastie are simple logos.
2 Tie Average Average Both are memorable
3 Tie Good Good Both have colors that coordinate fine.
4 Linux Good Average The penguin translates well to black and white.
Beastie is displayed as an outline.
5 Tie Average Average Tux is black, white, and yellow. Nothing great.
Beastie is red mostly.
6 Tie bad Bad Both stray from the brand name, probably
because they are more mascots than logos.
7 Tie bad Bad Neither is pertinent to the brand.
8 Linux Good Bad The penguin is nice and cute.
Beastie is a devil and controversially offensive. The reference to daemons and forks is lost on most people.

Ok, so neither mascot makes a good logo, but Tux does have a small edge over Beastie. Now lets look at the logos. I am going to use the Red Hat logo versus the FreeBSD logo, as Linux doesn’t exactly have its own logo.

Red Hat Logo FreeBSD logo

Winner Linux FreeBSD Explanation
1 Linux Average Bad Red Hat is two colors and is a complex drawing.
FreeBSD is a 3d sphere, it is more than two colors, red and black, as it has many different shades of red.
2 Tie Average Average Both are equally memorable
3 Tie Good Good Both are very well color cordinated.
4 Tie Bad Bad The color red makes both logos. Neither look as good in black and white only.
5 Tie Average Average Both have red and black. Not much difference.
6 Tie Average Average Both are an image to the left of the brand name.
7 Linux Good Bad Red Hat has a logo of a guy in a Red Hat, not pertanent to Linux but very pretinent to the brand.
FreeBSD has sphere with horns, and the relationship to a daemon is a stretch at best.
8 Linux Good Bad The Red Hat logo is a simple image, nothing offensive.
The devil horns comes with tons of religious history and is offensive to certain individuals, even toned down as a sphere with horns.

Using the same point system, 0, 3, 5 for Bad, Average, Good…

Linux gets 27 out of 40 possible points, or 67.5%.

FreeBSD gets 14 of a  40 points, or 35%.

After analyzing this, the FreeBSD logo isn’t as good overall as the Red Hat logo using the measurement above. However, I wouldn’t say the Red Hat logo is great either. I do think that just from a “looks and coolness” despite the rating system, the new BSD logo looks better.

What is being done?

FreeBSD recently updated the logo to the one you see above. There are no plans to improve the name, logo, or brand further that I know of.

Reason #3 – Licensing

Business and enterprise drive use. In my experience, business leaders equate open source software with the GPL license. I have heard so many companies say that they have banned open source software. However, every business leader I have educated in the different open sources licenses change the ban to allow BSD and similar licensed, citing that they didn’t understand the different licenses or the business and enterprise friendliness of the BSD and similar licenses.

Both the FreeBSD license and the GPL are great licenses. However, they have a slight different focus.  FreeBSD is a license designed to share code freely. GPL is also a license to share the code freely with the added enforcement that any code that uses GPL code is also GPL.

I have another post to discuss Differences between the BSD/FreeBSD Copyrights and the GNU Public License (GPL).

  • If you distribute binaries built using BSD Licensed source, there are only two things you shouldn’t do (you wouldn’t do either anyway).
  • If you distribute binaries built using GPL source, you have to pay attention. 1) your code may also be required to use the GPL license and 2) there are actions you must perform, such as provide access to the source and your source that uses the GPL source.

Businesses and enterprises often don’t understand that there are alternate licenses beyond GPL. Sometimes they actually prefer to buy commercial software just to avoid “open source”. We need to share how enterprise friendly the BSD license is with IT managers and business decisions makers.

I have seen this from personal experience. At a previous company, they mistakenly used GPL software and other software thinking it was free, forgetting that they actually have to perform actions in order to use this software. It cost them a lot of money when they were found out. The sad part is there was alternate  software available that was BSD Licensed, so they wasted money because neither the developers nor the business leader knew better. I knew better and they were quite shocked when I gave them a simple solution: Just use this alternate software as it is BSD Licensed. They did and it saved them a lot of money.

Even though I put licensing as the third reason, after thinking about it, this comes back to Reason #1 – Advertising again, because the main problem is that the GPL seems to be advertised more and many business leader are unaware of other open source licenses.

What is being done?

I think nothing is being done. I am not sure if there is any effort to advertise the benefits of the FreeBSD’s permissive licensing over other more restrictive licenses.

Reason #4 – A law suit early on

This was before my time, but I always hear that around the time Linux and BSD were released, BSD was sued and so people shied away from BSD because the threat of a law suit. This occurred well before I cared and if you want to read more about it, check out the wikipedia artcle.

I can’t prove that BSD was slowed by this, or that Linux wouldn’t have the same advantage in market share over BSD had this occurred. But every time I see a question about why FreeBSD is not more popular someone brings this up.

However, when Linux was sued by SCO, it didn’t really affect the market, so I am not sure if this was really valid or not. It is a historical possibility at best.

Reason #5 – Company backing

We know that in the early days of Linux there were multiple business who backed Linux. Then Red Hat and SUSE went enterprise. Ubuntu has Canonical.

For FreeBSD, Apple took it into their product but not as open source, and they didn’t really advertise the fact that they were partially BSD. iXSystems and some hosting companies are about all that FreeBSD has when it comes to an business.

What is being done?

Well, FreeBSD is continuing to get backing from Apple. I have heard rumors that Apple is one of the primary sponsors of Clang and LLVM (tools to replace gcc as a compiler) that uses a permissive license.

iXSystems kept FreeNAS a FreeBSD product by sponsoring it and has sponsored many booths at open source conferences.

I have heard of Yahoo being a strong backer of FreeBSD, though I am not sure of any recent examples.  But it is clear that FreeBSD needs more business backing if it plans to compete in the open source market with Linux.

One Comment

  1. Larry Lamsy says:

    Very good comparison. Thanks.

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