Blame sluggish Windows 10 adoption on unenthusiastic Windows 8 and 8.1 users

They moved to Windows 10 at a rate less than half that of Windows 8 users to Windows 8.1 in 2013

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Mark Hachman

Windows 10 adoption is already significantly behind the uptake pace set by its predecessor, 2013’s Windows 8.1, during its first three months, according to an analysis of OS user share.

Those at fault? Windows 8 and 8.1 users.

They have not migrated to Windows 10 at the speed anticipated by Computerworld, which based its forecast on the rate with which Windows 8 users deserted their problem-plagued OS for its partial reboot, Windows 8.1.

Three months after its October 2013 launch, Windows 8.1 accounted for 34.3% of all Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 devices tracked by analytics company Net Applications, whose results are expressed as user share, a proxy for the portion of the world’s PCs running a specific OS. Computerworld used the adoption rate of Windows 8.1 to forecast Windows 10’s uptake because Microsoft’s only free upgrade prior to Windows 10 was Windows 8.1.

windows 10 uptake in first 3 months Net Applications

Computerworld‘s forecast was premised on Windows 8 and 8.1 users upgrading to Windows 10 at the same rate that Windows 8 users did to the also-free Windows 8.1. That didn’t happen: Instead, Windows 8/8.1 owners upgraded at less than half that rate. 

Instead of declining by 34.3% as anticipated -- with those users taking Microsoft’s offer for the free upgrade, and thus departing for Windows 10 -- the combined user share of Windows 8 and 8.1 has dropped only 16.4% since the end of July, when Windows 10 launched.

In plainer terms, Windows 8 and 8.1 users have been less than half as likely to upgrade to Windows 10 as those once running Windows 8 had been to get onto Windows 8.1. That hints that Microsoft will have a tougher time getting Windows 8 and 8.1 users off their current OS than the only data it had -- how fast Windows 8 customers jumped to Windows 8.1 -- would have indicated.

On the plus side: Windows 10 has accumulated more than twice the raw user share in three months than did Windows 8.1 three years ago, largely because the former’s eligibility pool was so much larger.

But if Microsoft wanted to blame any group for the surprisingly slow upgrade pace of Windows 10 -- the fact it didn’t match the percentage shift of Windows 8.1 was stunning -- it should focus on the crowd still running Windows 8 and 8.1, a bunch that at the end of October still accounted for 14.6% of all those with a Windows-powered device.

Rather than contribute approximately 6 percentage points of all Windows PCs to the Windows 10 kitty -- as would have happened if Windows 8 and 8.1 users had upgraded to Windows 10 at the 2013 historical pace of Windows 8.1 -- representing approximately 90 million devices, those customers only kicked in 2.9 points, or about 43 million systems.

(The number of devices was based on the fraction of 1.5 billion, a number Microsoft has regularly cited as the global tally for all Windows-powered PCs.)

But while Windows 8 and 8.1 users have been more hesitant to upgrade than expected, Windows 7 users nearly made their forecasted quota for the first three months of Windows 10's existence.

Previously, Computerworld had estimated that consumers with a Windows 7 machine would upgrade to Windows 10 at half the rate of Windows 8.1 in its first three months. Because of Windows 7’s dominance in the Windows world -- at the end of July it accounted for 67% of all Windows PCs -- Computerworld had forecast that the OS would contribute 6.3 percentage points to Windows 10’s user share within 90 days, shifting 95 million devices from the “7” column to the “10” column.

Windows 7 came close, dropping 5.4 percentage points -- losing 81 million PCs -- during the three months since Windows 10’s debut.

The difference between the forecast and reality was due to a lower-than-forecast upgrade rate for Windows 7: Rather than the shot-in-the-dark guess by Computerworld that they would be half as likely (or 50% as much) to upgrade as were those who moved to Windows 8.1 back in 2013, the upgrade pace for consumer-owned Windows 7 PCs was about 42% of 8.1’s.

If Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 had upgraded at the forecast rates, Windows 10 would have gained approximately 12.3 percentage points of users share since July, which would have represented about 185 million systems. Instead, Windows 10 finished October up 8.4 points, or 125 million. The bulk of that 60 million machine shortfall -- 47 million -- came from Windows 8’s and 8.1’s poor showings in the upgrade sweepstakes.

Net Applications’ data was a surprise: Traditionally those with the newest operating systems are much more likely to upgrade than consumers with older OSes. Under that rule of thumb, Windows 8 and 8.1 were almost certain to quickly jump to Windows 10.

While they did that in the first month at a higher rate -- Windows 8 and 8.1 lost 12% of their combined user share in August -- than did Windows 7 users, it quickly slowed. Windows 7 featured the same front-loaded trajectory, losing 5% in the first month, but the sheer size of its starting user share meant it could shed smaller percentages and still contribute more to Windows 10 than the Windows 8/8.1 cadre.

Microsoft was only ever going to get to its self-imposed goal of 1 billion Windows 10 devices by mid-2018, of course, by tapping deeply into the Windows 7 user base. But perhaps by stressing the advantages of Windows 10 to those users, it forgot how to convince Windows 8 and 8.1 PC owners that they, too, should upgrade to 10.

The Redmond, Wash., company will be taking controversial steps this year and early next to prompt more consumers to upgrade. They include a move this month that will queue the Windows 10 upgrade under Windows Update’s Optional list, and in early 2016, will shift the upgrade to the Recommended category of Windows Update, where it will be automatically downloaded to most consumers’ devices, with the upgrade process also auto-triggering at some later point.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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