Windows by the numbers: Finally, the 7-to-10 migration kicks into high gear

Windows 7's share of all PCs dropped sharply in July, indicating users are finally migrating to Windows 10 as 7's end-of-support date draws ever closer.

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Windows by the numbers: January 2019

Windows 10's user share last month jumped by the largest amount in more than two and a half years, a strong signal that customers running older OSes may have gotten serious about meeting the looming retirement deadline of Windows 7.

According to web analytics company Net Applications, Windows 10's share climbed by 1.7 percentage points in January, ending the month at 40.9% of all personal computers and 47.4% of all PCs running Windows. (The second number is always larger than the first because Windows does not power all personal computers; in January, Windows ran 86% of the world's machines. Most of the rest ran macOS, Linux or Chrome OS.)

In an odd turn-about, Windows 7 added user share last month, gaining three-tenths of a percentage point to reach 37.2% of all PCs and 43.1% of those running Windows. Meanwhile, the long-obsolete Windows XP shed 1.8 percentage points during January, putting it at just 2.8% of all PCs and an almost as meager 3.2% of systems powered by Windows.

Both Windows 7's and XP's shifts, however, could be described as much as data corrections as actual increases and decreases. By Net Applications' measurements, Windows 7 lost 2 points in December alone - the biggest drop since July 2016 - so the slight increase in January could well be a modest adjustment to what had been an overly-optimistic report earlier. More likely still: Windows XP's dramatic drop may not have really meant millions suddenly ditched the unsupported OS.

During the three months of October through December, Net Applications asserted that XP had illogically gained 1.3 percentage points. The 1.8-point decline of January voided those increases completely, then added in a slump that equaled the average losses of several months over the past three years.

Windows 10 surges for second month in a row

Windows 10's January growth of 1.7 points was the largest increase since August 2016 (excepting a November 2017 data recalibration by Net Applications) and just as important, the second straight month of gains larger than a point. (The last time Windows 10 posted something similar was July-August 2016.) The so-far-sustained boost in user share may presage growing momentum as commercial customers push to upgrade the bulk of their PCs from Windows 7 before the Jan. 14, 2020, support retirement. At least, that's what Microsoft must hope.

When Windows 7's support ends, it should be powering nearly 38% of all Windows PCs, while Windows 10 should be running 56% of the same group. The first number - the projected user share for Windows 7 at its retirement - was higher than its December forecast because of the share increase in January. Windows 10's predicted share was also higher than the previous projection, up a full point.

The Windows 7 forecast showcased the staying power of that operating system, and the impossibility that Microsoft could do anything short of giving away Windows 10 to all customers to significantly change the 2009's edition status. Even if Windows 7's share fell by a point each month for the next 11 months, the OS would still power almost 30% of all Windows PCs at its retirement. That would still be a larger portion than Windows XP's when it dropped off the support list in 2014.

(Similarly, if Windows 10 recorded average increases of one point each month for the next 11, it would reach 63% by January.)

With numbers like those, the post-retirement "Windows 7 Extended Security Updates" (ESU) announced last year may be looking better to enterprises. For an escalating cost each year, with a cap of three years, companies running Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Enterprise will continue to receive security updates for those editions.

Microsoft has not made public prices for ESU, although in a document obtained from its website, the company admitted that the cost will double each year. In other words, if the price was $100 per PC for the first year, it would run $200 the second and $400 the third. "We believe that the vast majority of customers who need to purchase Windows 7 ESU will need only one year of coverage," Microsoft said in that document, justifying the steep increases. "The annual price increases help cover our additional engineering costs of providing the support and are intended to incent customers to continue their momentum on Windows 10 deployments."

Elsewhere in January's results, the overall user share of Windows remained flat at 86%. The combined share of all macOS and OS X editions was also stagnant at 10.7%. Linux's user share slipped by three-tenths of a point and Google's Chrome OS edged up somewhat, with those OSes at 2.5% and 0.4%, respectively.

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