Uptake gap between Windows 8 and Vista widens even as new OS gains share

Windows XP users won't give up the aged operating system as 2014 retirement deadline approaches

Windows 8 last month fell even further behind the historical adoption pace of Windows Vista, Microsoft's 2007 flop, new statistics showed today.

The bright spot for Windows 8 in the data from Web analytics company Net Applications: Its share of all Windows PCs increased in March by a larger margin than the month before, reversing a trend of declining growth since the OS launched in October.

According to Net Applications, Windows 8's March usage share -- including what the firm labeled as "touch" for Windows 8 and Windows RT -- was 3.6% of all Windows PCs, up from February's 3%.

Windows 8's share increase in March was six-tenths of a percentage point, larger than February's gain of five-tenths of a point. From November -- the first full month after Windows 8's launch -- through February, the operating system's increases had grown smaller each month.

March was the first time Windows 8's increase was greater than the month prior.

At the same time, however, the gap between Windows 8's and Windows Vista's uptake pace widened.

By the end of its fifth month, Vista powered 4.9% of all Windows PCs, while Windows 8 accounted for 3.6% at the same point in its post-release timeline. The 1.3 percentage point difference between Vista and Windows 8 was the biggest so far in Computerworld's tracking, and twice as large as the gap just two months ago.

Windows 8, of course, is competing in a vastly different world than did Vista, with slumping PC sales prominent, caused in part by a desertion of dollars to tablets, where the operating system -- and its limited-feature sibling, Windows RT -- has yet to make much headway.

Windows 8's ability to run on tablets has not helped the OS. Net Applications' measurement of users running Windows 8 from the "Modern," formerly called "Metro," user interface (UI), increased by just two-hundredths of a percentage point last month, while Windows RT gained one-hundredth of a point. Together, they accounted for just over one-tenth of 1% of all personal computers that went online last month.

In the short-term, there's little chance Windows 8 will match Vista's trajectory: Windows 8 must gain a full percentage point in April to close on Vista, something it has yet to do since its launch.

Net Applications also reported on usage shares for older editions of Windows.

The gap between Windows 8's and Windows Vista's uptake clips widened in March to its largest ever. (Data: Net Applications.)

Windows 8's poor uptake performance has left it open to criticism that it's a Vista-like bomb. Vista, which was regularly derided by customers, peaked at around 20% of all Windows PCs in October 2009.

The uptake has also made Windows 8 fair game for all kinds of shots. The latest came from Dell, the world's third-largest computer maker and a long-time Microsoft partner, which listed Windows 8's "uncertain adoption" as one of several reasons why its PC business has failed to meet internal revenue projections.

Windows XP, which is only a year from forced retirement, fell by a quarter of a percentage point in March, its smallest decline since June 2010, hinting that users' hands might have to be pried from the OS. In March, XP accounted for 42% of all Windows systems worldwide.

Projections based on Windows XP's average monthly loss over the last year now peg the operating system with a usage share of 30% in April 2014, the month Microsoft plans to drop all support except for custom enterprise plans, which cost a fortune.

Windows 7, meanwhile, gained two-tenths of a point of usage share last month to end with 49% of all Windows PCs, indicating that the stalwart edition won't be affected much, if at all, by the launch of Windows 8 in the short-term. Most analysts, in fact, believe that Windows 7 will continue to gain share as enterprises -- and consumers -- running XP finally abandon the 12-year-old operating system and migrate to 2009's Windows 7, rather than make the radical leap to Windows 8 and its two UIs.

Vista slipped under the 5% mark for the first time since June 2007, just five months after its debut. If Windows 8 and Vista continue gaining and losing, respectively, at their three-month averages, the former will pass the latter's usage share in May to become the third-most-used edition of Windows on the desktop.

Net Applications measures operating system usage by tracking unique visitors to some 40,000 websites operated by its customers.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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