Windows 10 books big growth spurt

Dupe-the-user tactic that changed the click-the-Close-button behavior may be at root of activity gains

Windows 10 in the last two weeks has posted its largest growth spurt since August 2015, according to data from an Irish analytics vendor.

StatCounter, which measures usage share -- a proxy for activity, but not necessarily representative of the number of devices running Windows 10 -- portrayed a large and extended string of week-over-week increases, starting around May 13 and continuing through Thursday. In the last three days -- starting Tuesday -- those gains were in excess of a percentage point, a rarity in StatCounter's Windows 10 data.

Computerworld has tracked Windows 10 growth using StatCounter's numbers since the OS's July 2015 debut by averaging the last seven days to eliminate the inevitable spikes during weekends. The results, then, show seven-day rolling averages of week-over-week changes.

The most recent growth of Windows 10 was larger than that at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, when gains were likely fueled by a combination of new PCs and the holidays. Because Windows 10 has only a minor foothold in business, when consumers are at their own PCs -- on weekends but also on U.S. or global holidays -- 10's usage climbs.

win10 usage may 26 StatCounter

Windows 10's week-over-week gains have boomed in the past two weeks, exceeding the impressive growth at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016.

Although Windows 10's growth has been easy to chart using StatCounter and other data sources, the why has been much harder to pin down. Much of Microsoft's progress in convincing or cajoling consumers into adopting Windows 10 has been a virtual black box, with little to no details from the company on how it implements what appear to be cycles of growth.

However, there are two most-probable explanations for the latest week-over-week gains.

First, consumers may have reacted to Microsoft's May 5 notice that it will end the free upgrade offer on July 29. By restating the deadline, Microsoft may have prompted large numbers of laggards to grab Windows 10 while the grabbing was gratis.

Second, Microsoft has changed how users interact with a notification that their Windows 10 upgrade, already downloaded to their machine, has been scheduled for execution. Rather than interpret the clicking of the red "X" in the upper-right corner of the pop-up window as canceling the slated upgrade, Microsoft has taken to assuming that the action actually approves the upgrade.

Users decried the change, and for good reason: Microsoft's interpretation of an X-click was not only counter to decades of user expectations but also broke the company's own design rules. The conclusion many reached: Microsoft was trying to trick Windows 7 and 8.1 users into upgrading against their wishes.

While the click-X-and-you-get-Windows-10 maneuver has been in place for at least two months -- and so one would expect that the growth would synchronize with the change -- Microsoft is in complete control over when the upgrade notices appear on customers' PCs. The company has such control by virtue of the software, and the embedded instructions, it feeds to PCs via Windows Update.

In other words, Microsoft chooses the timing of when scheduled upgrade notifications appear on users' screens.

It's likely that, even though the click-X action's results were altered some time ago, users reported the behavior only recently because Microsoft issued a widespread your-upgrade-has-been-scheduled instruction to a significant number of Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs.

The ploy appears to have paid off, at least in the coin of Windows 10 activity, which is what StatCounter measures.

Not surprisingly, some have raged against the move enough to assert that they've reached the end of their rope, and that they will abandon Windows for an alternative, typically Apple's OS X or the open-source Linux. But those reports have been rare and are probably more talk than action: It's incredibly time-consuming for a consumer or small business to switch from Windows to another operating system, a change that also necessitates application replacement.

Moving from a Windows PC to a Mac adds a monetary hit as well, as the old hardware must be ditched and new systems purchased.

Microsoft is probably counting on the inertia and willing to take whatever lumps come its way for duping customers in exchange for pushing more of them onto Windows 10.

The free Windows 10 upgrade offer has about two months left to run; Computerworld will continue to revisit user and usage share changes as that deadline approaches.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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