Windows by the numbers: Sanity returns as Windows 7 sheds user share

Migration watch: Windows 10's user share is rising again, and Windows 7 resumed shedding users in May.

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Windows by the numbers: March 2018

Just when it looked like Windows 10 was gathering momentum, the operating system last month sloughed off its biggest-ever chunk of user share, new data showed.

According to analytics vendor Net Applications, Windows 10 lost eight-tenths of a percentage point in user share — an estimate of the portion of all PCs powered by that operating system — during March, ending the month on 33.3% of the world’s PCs and 37.4% of all systems running a Microsoft edition. (The second number is larger than the first because Windows accounted for 88.9% of all operating systems, not 100%.)

The downturn was the largest ever for Windows 10, which has been trending up since its mid-2015 debut. That movement has not been a straight line, as March’s dip showed, but it has been impressive, averaging more than eight-tenths of a point monthly.

It’s certain that Windows 10 will again post gains — there is no other reasonable alternative to Windows 7, which Microsoft will retire in January 2020 — and that last month was a blip. But the screeching stop was accompanied by an even larger increase in Windows 7’s user share: The veteran OS added 1.8 percentage points to its tally, ending March with 43.4%, slightly more than Net Applications had pegged it at in November 2017.

Windows 7’s uptick was bad news on multiple fronts.

First, if accurate — and there’s no guarantee any third-party measurement is — then Windows 7 will retain a larger number of users than earlier anticipated when it slips off the support list in 21 months. Using the 12-month average of Windows 7’s share movements, Computerworld now forecasts that the 2009 OS will account for about 38% of all active Windows editions in January 2020. At that time, Windows 10 should power approximately 56% of all Windows laptop and desktop PCs.

The latest prediction for Windows 7’s end-of-support remainder was three percentage points higher than that of last month, which was calculated the same way.

Second, the boost to Windows 7 pushes back the cross-over for Windows 10 — when it will power a larger percentage of all Windows PCs than Windows 7 — from August (as of February’s data from Net Applications) to December (using March’s numbers). The trend line for the two operating systems now indicates that at the end of this year — and just over 12 months from Windows 7’s retirement — Windows 10 will run 45.1% of all Windows systems, while Windows 7 will be on 44.8%.

And third, the large jump in user share for Windows 7 immediately raises suspicion that the measurement was flawed, perhaps because fraudulent bot traffic — scoured by Net Applications from its data last year — has returned with a vengeance. If so, it would call into question the entirety of Net Applications’ user share estimates.

All of those would point to a failure of sorts for Microsoft, because it would mean there will be many more PCs running Windows 7 in January 2020 than were on Windows XP when that OS exited support in April 2014. During the latter month, XP accounted for about 29% of all Windows editions. Since then, Microsoft has waged an unprecedented campaign on the part of Windows 10, using both strong-arm tactics and a wealth of new tools, to persuade and push customers into migration.

Elsewhere in Net Applications’ data, the user share for Apple’s macOS plummeted a full percentage point to 8.9%, making moot its recent charge toward the once-fanciful 10% milestone for the company’s Macintosh line.

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