Windows XP slide continues; Mac OS X posts record gain

Next few months should show whether Windows 8 is another Vista mess or a hit like Windows 7

On the heels of yesterday's launch of Windows 8's preview, new statistics show that Microsoft's decade-old Windows XP again plummeted in usage share and will be surpassed by Windows 7 in June.

According to Internet metrics firm Net Applications, Windows XP lost 1.8 percentage points last month to drop to a 45.4% share. The decline was the largest since December 2011, and the fourth time in the last 12 months that the aged OS lost around two points of share.

Windows XP also reached a milestone in February, for the first time accounting for less than half of all machines running Windows. Of the PCs powered by Windows, 49.4% of them ran XP.

Meanwhile, Windows 7 continued its charge, gaining 1.7 percentage points to end February with 38.1% of the desktop operating system usage share.

Assuming their paces hold steady, Windows 7 will take the top spot from XP in June, and has an outside shot of doing so in May.

It couldn't come too soon for Microsoft, which has been reminding customers that XP will stop receiving security updates in April 2014, and aggressively pushing Windows 7 as the next logical move.

Microsoft's problem-plagued Vista -- the 2007 edition that never managed to capture more than 20% of the market -- lost about one-tenth of a percentage point, dropping to 8.1%.

Windows overall share receded slightly to 91.9%, the fourth straight month that the operating system has grown share, stayed flat or lost less than two-tenths of a percentage point. The last time Windows dropped by more than half a percentage point was October 2011.

The Wednesday release of Windows 8 Consumer Preview will not immediately affect share numbers -- it's not expected to ship until this fall -- but if the radically-revamped OS catches on, it could mean the end of Windows 7's climb.

Vista, for example, peaked the same month that Microsoft launched Windows 7 and has been sliding ever since.

Windows XP users will be able to upgrade to Windows 8, assuming their PCs meet the low-level system requirements of the latter: a 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. Most analysts, however, expect XP owners, especially businesses that still rely on the old OS, to migrate to Windows 7 rather than that edition's touch-centric successor.

During February, only 0.02% -- or two PCs out of every 10,000 -- ran Windows 8 Developer Preview, the September 2011 edition that Microsoft opened to all comers.

The next few months will show whether users are trying out Windows 8, and possibly predict its future adoption.

Three years ago when Microsoft delivered the public beta of Windows 7, that OS's share jumped to 0.2% the month after the preview's debut, and reached half a percentage point within four months. By the time Windows 7 shipped in October 2009, it had acquired a respectable 2.2% share.

OS chart
Windows XP's and WIndows 7's usage shares are converging. The latter should take the lead in June 2012. (Data: Net Applications.)
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