Is anyone really using Windows 8's preview?

With a download count larger than Windows 7 beta's, Microsoft's Windows 8 preview is being used by just a fourth as many people

Although millions have downloaded Microsoft's Windows 8 developer preview, relatively few are actually using it, Web measurements show.

During November, Windows 8 powered 0.03% of the computers -- or three out of every 10,000 -- that connected to the Internet, according to data from California-based Net Applications.

That's a small increase from the 0.02% Windows 8 garnered in October, the first full month after Microsoft released a developer preview of the still-under-construction OS to the public.

But Windows 8's current numbers pale in comparison to Windows 7's very early returns three years ago.

Microsoft released the first beta of Windows 7 on January 9, 2009 -- it never offered a developer preview to the general public -- and after a server-side overload, restarted downloads the next day. Three weeks later, Windows 7 accounted for 0.13% of all operating systems, or more than four times what Windows 8 has accrued in two-and-a-half months.

The download numbers for the two are roughly comparable.

Last week, Microsoft said that over three million copies of Windows 8 had been downloaded between Sept. 13 and Dec. 7, 2011.

While Microsoft never disclosed how many copies of Windows 7 beta were downloaded, the company initially put a cap of 2.5 million on the release, then changed its mind: It first dumped the cap, then extended availability by two weeks.

Both moves suggested that fewer than 2.5 million copies had been downloaded during January 2009. At the time, Microsoft declined to say whether Windows 7's beta had fallen short or surpassed the 2.5 million-mark.

Data from Chitika, which recently mined its online ad-serving network to measure Windows 8 uptake, suggested that its use has slipped since the preview's launch.

According to Chitika, Windows 8's share of all Windows traffic ranged between 0.015% and 0.025% during the week of Dec. 4-12, lower than the 0.035% peak it measured the week after the preview's debut.

[Editor's note: While Chitika's Windows 8 numbers represent a share of Windows traffic only, for all intents and purposes they're analogous to the share of all online desktop operating systems, since Windows currently accounts for more than 92% of all such OSes.]

Chitika used those numbers to argue in a report last week that interest in Windows 8's developer preview was flagging.

"Such a low level of activity witnessed in Windows 8 in the months leading up to its beta release is troubling," said the Chitika report, noting that desktop users have complained that its "touch-first" user interface does not work well with a keyboard and mouse.

The comparisons using download and Web usage data bear out Windows 8's poor performance relative to Windows 7, even when 2011's larger pool of online computers is taken into account. (The personal computer installed base grows at a rate of about 12% per year.)

But it's also a fact that a preview does not a beta make. The first is rough-edged and likely used only for short stretches, then put aside; the latter is feature-complete and run by more people as their primary OS. Comparisons between the two will always skew toward the beta.

Chitika hinted as much. "It is too soon to tell whether the developments in Windows 8 will either limit its success, or further its grip on the OS market," the company said. "Only time will tell."

Microsoft intends to ship a public beta of Windows 8 in late February 2012, but has not yet set a specific date.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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