There’s something fishy about those Windows 10 market-share numbers

The real question to ask, though, is why this figure is so important to Microsoft

netmarketshare desktop jan 2016
NetMarketShare (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

It seems pathetic, but Windows 10 fans are celebrating that, by NetMarketShare’s count, Windows 10’s market share has finally surpassed XP’s numbers.

Yes, that’s right, we’re talking about a shiny, much-hyped operating system that, after some six months out of the gate, has finally beaten a 15-year-old OS that hasn’t been supported in years.

Sadly, I don’t even trust NetMarketShare’s numbers as far as I can throw them. It’s not just that NetMarketShare is a Microsoft partner; this is the market research firm that still has Internet Explorer beating all the other web browsers handily. I don’t think so.

And if you look closely at those numbers, you’ll see that XP use actually increased in January 2016! Windows 10’s growth came at the expense not of XP, but of Windows 7. I don’t buy it.

The only numbers I really trust on OS and web browser market-share come from the U.S. government, of all places. The federal government’s Digital Analytics Program (DAP) tracks the web visitors to more than 37 government agencies and tallies their operating systems and web browsers.

If you buy NetMarketShare’s numbers, Windows 7 has 52.5% of the desktop market, with Windows 10 in second place at 11.5%, and XP in third place at 11.4%.

Windows 8.x, the Microsoft operating system I love to hate? I wasn’t the only one. It was the last-place Windows OS, with 10.4% of users.

By DAP’s count, though, Windows 7 has 33.9%, and Windows 10 came in second with 8.8%. The Windows 8.x family took third with 7.7%. And way in the back of the Windows crew, XP came in with a much more believable 1.8%.

Why are DAP’s numbers lower than NetMarketShare’s? Because DAP doesn’t break down desktop and mobile platforms into separate counts. Apple iOS, with 18.3%, is the real overall second-place operating system, followed by Android at 17.2%.

Once you dice the numbers, here’s what I see: Windows 7 is still the top operating system. XP, thank God, really is getting tossed into history’s trash can, no matter what NetMarketShare might say. And, yes, Windows 10’s market share really is growing.

But is it growing because people really want it, or because Microsoft is shoving Windows 10 down our throats? I think it’s the latter.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I actually like Windows 10. I just don’t love it. My Windows of choice remains Windows 7. Why? It just works.

I am hardly alone, judging from the hundreds of thousands of people who have read this story.Clearly, people still want Windows 7. And that’s not just because they don’t want to upgrade their old machines. They want it on their new machines as well.

Microsoft wants you to stop Windows 7. It’s not even fully supporting Windows 7, or 8.1 for that matter, on Intel’s hot new SkyLake CPUs.

XP? It’s a zombie operating system. Who cares when Windows 10 beat XP? The only news here would be if Windows 10 hadn’t caught up with XP.

To me, the more interesting question is “How is Windows 10 doing compared to Windows 7?” What I see is that Windows 10 “seems” to be catching up.

Why is that happening? I don’t think it’s because people are eager to move to Windows 10. Everything I’ve seen indicates that Windows 10 has gained traction not because it’s a major improvement over Windows 7 — it’s not — but because Microsoft has been pushing Windows 10 on users.

I’m asked all the time why Microsoft is doing this. Easy.

Microsoft wants to move once and for all from an upgrade system, where it must support multiple Windows versions for years, to an automatically updated, cloud-based Windows subscription model.

This will save Microsoft billions in support costs. In theory, it will also make Windows more stable and secure. Well, that’s the idea anyway.

With Windows 10, Automatic Updates must be enabled. Fair enough, you might say, except that I predict that sometime after Microsoft has pasted Windows 10, like it or not, into our systems, we’ll see millions of Windows 10 PCs fail because of a bad update. Then, and only then, will Microsoft reconsider fast-tracking everyone to Windows 10.

Me? I still rely on Linux — Mint 17.3 to be exact — for my main desktop. With it, I, and not some company, get to decide when to update and when to patch. I like having control over my desktop. If you don’t care, go and follow the Windows 10 lemmings. I’ll go my own way.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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