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: February 2018

A small boost in Windows 10's user share over the last several months is likely a signal that businesses have finally begun migrating to the new operating system, an analysis of new data shows.

Data published yesterday by California-based Net Applications said that Windows 10 actually slipped two-tenths of a percentage point in user share - the portion of all personal computer owners who ran the operating system - during February, ending the month powering 34.1% of the world's PCs and 38.9% of all systems running an edition of Microsoft's OS. (The second number is larger than the first because Windows accounted for 87.7% of all operating systems, not 100%.)

But the downturn, the first since February 2017, was certainly an outlier, as Windows 10 has been on an upward climb since its mid-2015 debut. That trend has not been a straight line, however, but one showing 10's increases by fits and starts.

By graphing Windows 10's user share increases on a six-month trailing basis - each data point represents the total gain over the previous six months - it becomes clear that after a pair of adoption waves that crested in January 2015 and August 2106, the operating system fell into a trough that reached bottom in February 2017.

(The timelines of the crests were not coincidental; the first was fueled by early adopters switching to Windows 10 from Windows 7 and 8.1 using Microsoft's free upgrade deal, and the second triggered by that free upgrade's expiration in mid-2016.)

In the past year, Windows 10's growth has, if not surged, then clawed its way out of the February 2017 hole. The six-month trailing numbers climbed, peaked, then slumped, three different times in the intervening 12 months. But each time the trough wasn't as low as the one before, while the recovering peak always exceeded its predecessor.

For instance, January 2018's six-month trailing number was 4.8 percentage points, the highest since November 2016.

Although it's unclear what percentages of enterprise PCs contribute to Net Applications' data - some corporate systems rarely if ever browse the wider web, instead remaining within a company's intranet perimeter - the rebounding of Windows 10's growth can safely be assigned to business machines migrating to the newer OS. (For one, consumer PC purchases continue their precipitous multi-year decline, and two, consumers who planned to upgrade from Windows 7 and 8.1 did so while the free offer lasted.)

Because businesses have a deadline to meet - the retirement of Windows 7 on Jan. 14, 2020 - it's no surprise that the switch to Windows 10 has picked up momentum. It would have been an incredible surprise if growth had not increased, what with the pressure to flush Windows 7 from corporate networks.

But will those companies make the due date?

Using the 12-month average of Windows 7's user share decline, Computerworld forecasts that the aging OS will still account for about 35% of all active Windows editions in January 2020. (At that time, Windows 10 should power approximately 63% of all Windows laptop and desktop PCs.)

The projected 35% would be a failure of sorts for Microsoft, because it would mean there were more PCs running Windows 7 than when Windows XP exited support in April 2014. That month, XP accounted for approximately 29% of all Windows editions.

Computerworld still forecasts the cross-over for Windows 10 - when it will power a larger percentage of all Windows PCs than Windows 7 - as August of this year. The 12-month trends for the two operating systems now indicate that at the end of that month, Windows 10 will run 45% of all Windows systems, while Windows 7 will be on 44.6%.

(Another analytics data provider, Ireland's StatCounter, pegged January 2018 as the moment when Windows 7 handed the baton to Windows 10.)

Elsewhere in Net Applications' data, the user share for Apple's macOS stayed stable at 9.9%, within spitting distance of a once-unthinkable 10% milestone for the company's 34-year-old Macintosh line.

windows 10 growth rebounds IDG/Gregg Keizer

Six-month trailing tallies show the ups and downs of Windows 10 growth since its mid-2015 debut. The improvement since February 2017 likely portrays businesses moving to the newer OS from the soon-to-be-retired Windows 7 hardware. (Data: Net Applications.)

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