Windows 10's usage share lead over Windows 7 evaporates

Even a free upgrade offer can't sustain Windows 10's early head start over Windows 7 in each operating system's first 123 days

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Windows 10's uptake pace has lost its lead over the adoption rate of Windows 7 six years ago, even though the former has been offered free of charge to hundreds of millions of customers, according to data from a Web analytics firm.

As of Nov. 28, Windows 10's usage share -- a proxy for online activity because it's based on website page views tracked by Irish measurement vendor StatCounter -- had shrunk to the levels posted by Windows 7 at the same post-launch point in its lifecycle. Computerworld calculated usage share on a daily basis using a rolling seven-day average to smooth fluctuations, particularly over the weekend, when consumers use their own systems rather than those forced on them at work, where older Windows editions are often still mandated.

Windows 10's raw usage share was below Windows 7's for four out of the last seven comparable days in their post-launch point.

Windows 10 usage share november Data: StatCounter

Windows 10's edge over Windows 7 in the uptake race has vanished, primarily because of the latter's organic growth as consumers purchased large numbers of new PCs in late 2009 and early 2010. This chart shows how much Windows 10's usage share led Windows 7's at the same points in their post-launch timelines.

The numbers suggest that the Windows 10 free upgrade offer's impact has been minimal when compared to the organic growth of Windows 7 in its first 123 days, a span spread over late 2009 and early 2010. It also illustrates the problem Microsoft has with an operating system wedded primarily to personal computers during a time when PCs sales are sluggish, with consumers -- always the earliest adopters of a new operating system -- especially reluctant to replace an aged system; smartphones and even tablets are now more likely to open their checkbooks or get them to slap down a credit card.

The comparison between Windows 7 and Windows 10 is skewed, however, by the release dates of each. The former debuted in late October 2009, and saw its largest usage share increases during the run-up to, and the weeks after, that year's holiday season, when millions bought new PCs equipped with the OS. Approximately 315 million PCs shipped in 2009, on the way to a peak of 374 million in 2011.

In contrast, Windows 10's largest usage share gains came during the first month after launch, when early adopters took advantage of Microsoft's free upgrade offer. Since then, growth has noticeably slowed.

Windows 10 could again outpace Windows 7 in adoption if large numbers of consumers purchase new PCs in the weeks ahead. That, however, is unlikely according to industry analysis, which has forecast continued sluggish sales as a four-year contraction in PC shipments stretches out even longer.

Most of the PC business now involves replacing old machines with new systems, and with corporations planning migrations to Windows 10 for 2017 and later -- and consumers less likely to replace their PCs in any case -- Windows 10 faces headwinds Windows 7 never did. Current estimates by IDC, for instance, are for PC shipments to reach 282 million for 2015, down 10% from 2009 when Windows 7 made its adoption charge.

Microsoft is doing all it can to juice Windows 10's uptake.

Windows 10 usage share chart 2 Data: StatCounter

Charting Windows 10 and Windows 7 usage share at the same points in their post-release lifespan shows how the latter slowly overtook the former around the 120-day mark.

The Redmond, Wash. company has made several unprecedented moves in pushing Windows 10 to customers now running Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, including some that have not yet taken effect. Early next year, Microsoft will tap the Windows 10 upgrade so it automatically downloads to consumer PCs and even begin the installation process.

Those decisions, along with whatever new PC sales are rung up at store registers in the next month, will probably restore Windows 10's usage share growth, and its dominance over Windows 7 at the same point in its after-launch timeline.

If they don't, Microsoft will no longer be able to boast that Windows 10 is its fastest-growing OS. More importantly, it will illustrate the systemic problems in the PC industry, and Microsoft's reliance on that form factor.

Interesting times.

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