On a related theme, the report reasserts that though Windows remains the most dominant OS, Microsoft's empire is slowly eroding. Net Applications found that 91.78% of computers and hybrids run some form of Windows. The product line's share hasn't been above 92% since July 2012 and hasn't been above 93% since July 2011. The various versions of OS X, meanwhile, accounted for less than 6% of users in July 2011 but now account for more than 7%. Such shifts do not amount to a major power realignment, but their sustained duration, along with Apple's market-beating performance throughout the PC slump, suggest that Windows is doing little to improve Microsoft's industry influence.
If the world were still focused only on PCs, Microsoft would have nothing to worry about. But analysts expect tablets to outsell traditional PCs for the foreseeable future.
Even if Microsoft remains the preferred OS for desktop users, the company will need to make strides in the mobile market if Windows is to maintain its overall industry clout.
Microsoft will almost certainly remain a powerhouse no matter what happens, but it's one thing to be the industry's sole superpower, and quite another to be one of several. With Google, Apple, Samsung and others all more firmly established among tablet-minded consumers, the overall OS landscape -- including the loyalties of developers -- is in motion.
Indeed, even Windows 7 speaks to the increasingly fragmented market. As mentioned, Microsoft's most popular OS stands to gain even more ground as Windows XP is retired. But XP claimed more than 80% of the market at its peak. Windows 7 is unlikely to reach this number, not only because its current share is so much less than 80% but also, to a lesser extent, because some XP machines will be replaced with Macs, Chromebooks, or Android or iOS devices.
Windows 8's struggles also speak to this fragmentation, and to how it affects assessments of a given OS's performance. Win8 has amassed much less than the 12% market share Windows 7 had snared through the same point in its release cycle, but the number of active PCs in the world has also increased over time. This increase inflates the extent to which newer Windows versions appear to trail their predecessors. For Windows 7 to improve on Windows XP's market share, the newer OS will need to sell substantially more licenses. Likewise, Windows 8 would have needed to outperform Windows 7 just to achieve the same market penetration.
All in all, the new numbers leave Windows 8's prospects more or less where they were before: reliant on both new devices with next-generation Intel chips, and Windows Blue, a major OS update expected by this fall. If the new offerings are a hit, Windows 8's early missteps could soon be forgotten. But if Win8 adoption continues to be slow through the end of the year, Microsoft will face more criticism than ever.