Every now and then The Register publishes a really funny news piece, and the one entitled 'Confused BBC tech chief' is a perfect example. According to the report, in an interview with UK based web design magazine .net, the Director of Future Media and Technology at the BBC, one Ashley Highfield, claimed that only 400 to 600 of the visitors to the BBC website were using Linux. That's 400 to 600 out of the 17.1 million users of the site.
"We have 17.1 million users of bbc.co.uk in the UK and, as far as our server logs can make out, 5 per cent of those [use Macs] and around 400 to 600 are Linux users" Highfield is quoted as saying.
Although it is easy to understand that actual numbers are never going to be possible to reap from server logs, especially when the browser user agent string can so easily be adjusted by users of Linux for example, it is still useful as a trend reporting device. Indeed, according to the CurryBetDotNet, the blog of a former BBC new media employee, if you go back a couple of years the BBC were saying then that Linux represented a 0.41 percent visitor share which would be over 70,000 rather than 600 max.
So what has Highfield got to say by way of an explanation?
Responding to the criticism of the figures in the BBC blog, Highfield comments "Alternative analysis that we have run off which performs the measurement in different ways suggests that the potential number of Linux users could range from 0.3% to 0.8% (which, from a total UK bbc.co.uk userbase of 12.2m weekly users could imply a user base between 36,600 and 97,600.) We'll try and get a more accurate picture: over 30 thousand Linux users is a not insubstantial number, but we do have to keep this in context with the vast majority of users who use either Windows or Macs to access bbc.co.uk."
Not that Highfield is a stranger to controversy when it comes to Linux by the numbers.
Take the small matter of the iPlayer, the BBC's move into streamed TV broadcasting content, which has been hit by claims it is ignoring Linux users. In that same .net magazine, Highfield responded to claims that open source protestors had been gathering outside the BBC's HQ in London as a result of the Windows only iPlayer by saying "The 12 people who demonstrated outside our offices have every right to demonstrate, but I think 'the 12 people' says it all."