I haven't seen the December issue of Linux Journal myself (yet!), but according to this blog entry KDE's desktop offering took 30.6% of the votes. That is twice the votes the runner up received which is a significant show of support from the Linux community. Thanks to everyone who voted, and congratulations to everyone who has helped make KDE's Plasma Desktop a reliable, performant and useful solution.
We are a diverse bunch in Free software and there are usually more than just a few options available to us. The multiplicity of options brings several benefits: competition, lessened risk due to single points of failure and an ability to focus on different use cases without devolving into lowest common denominator software to name three. However, sometimes there is more diversity than the user or developer base can support successfully. In such cases, the diversity prevents any one solution from gaining critical mass limiting the quality and capabilities of the software.
On the desktop side, having seen a variety of reliable industry numbers (not all of which were public, sadly) it was my understanding that Free software desktops were growing at a significant pace in the first half-decade of this century. Since then, we've hit a stall point. There still is growth happening, but it has not been even. There are many reasons for this, the biggest of which are unrelated to the diversity we see in Free software desktop environments.
However, the lack of a clear mandate from the users of Free software on the desktop has prevented any one desktop environment achieving the critical mass that would help to push through the ceiling we currently are pressed up against. Just how fractured support is can be seen clearly from the Linux Journal survey, which lines up quite neatly against every other survey I've seen in the last year.
During the time when there was more significant market growth for the Free software desktop, KDE software usually polled at 60%+ of the user base. The biggest shift in these numbers happened during the KDE 3.x desktop releases, well prior to the 4.x releases. Since that time, the numbers for KDE's desktop environment has remained generally constant. There was a dip right after the 4.0 release for reasons that have be well covered, but that was a set of issues which the community addressed on the way to realizing the vision for KDE Plasma. For for the last several years we've been idling in that 30-40% range of support.
This raises in my mind what is probably the obvious question: if KDE were to want to build on that 30%+ support shown by Linux Journal readers, what could we do to achieve that?
That is not a glib question that can be answered with "well, if someone just fixed bug X" type simplifications or tired (and largely debunked) criticisms (e.g. "developers don't listen to users", "KDE software is 'bloated' relative to other options"). The answers (plural) will most likely lie within the social dynamics of the Free software user community rather than individualized wishes and guessing games. They are likely to not even be technological; I suspect most of the answers are social and industry related.
In closing, 30.6% is a terrific showing and shows KDE's central role in Free software desktop environments. But let's not stop there; let's us that as inspiration to go further.