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6/2/2014
02:10 PM
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Windows 8.1 Makes Gains, XP Hangs On

Windows 8.1 finally has more users than Windows 8, but both lag far behind Windows XP and Windows 7.

Surface Pro 3 Vs. World: Mobile Smackdown
Surface Pro 3 Vs. World: Mobile Smackdown
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Last month, more people used Windows 8.1 than Windows 8 -- the first time that's happened since the free update launched last fall. But Windows 7 remained the overall PC champion in May, expanding its share to just more than half the market. Ever-resilient Windows XP also placed ahead of Windows 8 and 8.1. Even though Microsoft has left it for dead, XP accounted for around a quarter of PC users last month.

The new figures, released by the web tracking firm Net Applications, reinforce that more XP holdouts have opted for Windows 7 than Windows 8. Now more than a decade old, Windows XP reached its end-of-support deadline in April, prompting millions to upgrade. Since January, Windows 7's market share has increased 2.6 percentage points, around 25% more than Windows 8 and 8.1's combined gain over the same period.

[Specific devices are over -- it's all about "personalized experiences" now. Read Microsoft's Nadella: We're In 'Post-PC' Era.]

Windows 7 held 50.06% of the PC market last month, up from 49.27% in April. Windows XP held on to 25.27% of users, down meaningfully from 26.29% in April and a sharp decline from 29.30% in January. Windows 8 slipped from 6.36% in April to 6.29% in May, while Windows 8.1 jumped from 5.88% to 6.35%. Combined, Windows 8/8.1 snared 12.64%, up from 12.24% in April and 10.49% at the start of the year.

(Source: Net Applications)
(Source: Net Applications)

Though finally starting to drop off, XP's sizable market share could mean millions of users rely on vulnerable machines. After terminating XP support in April, Microsoft gave the OS a one-time reprieve when it issued a security update in response to a new Internet Explorer bug. The company, which says most commercial XP customers have upgraded, has also discouraged users from implementing a recently discovered registry hack that enables XP-based PCs to procure updates for Windows Embedded POSReady 2009. The Embedded version is similar to XP and remains a supported product until 2019. However, Microsoft says updates designed for Embedded systems won't protect mainstream XP PCs -- a contention some online commentators have questioned.

Even if the hack were safe, Microsoft probably wouldn't admit it. After all, the company wants customers to upgrade to newer operating systems. But Wolfgang Kandek, CTO at the security vendor Qualys, agreed in an email that the hack probably isn't a wise option.

Users "have no way of knowing the side effects of these unauthorized and untested changes," he said. "It is a clever hack, and I am testing it on my virtual machines right now, but in production? Only if forced by higher powers."

Windows 8 and 8.1 also remain ongoing talking points. Windows 8 received poor marks from users and critics alike. Windows 8.1 incorporated several improvements, such as a boot-to-desktop mode, and earned better reviews. Nevertheless, user adoption has been slow. Even in May, Windows 8.1 snared only 50.2% of the combined Windows 8/8.1 share.

Still, Windows 8.1 posted a healthy jump from April to May, perhaps buoyed by a recent update designed to make the OS usable on nontouch hardware. However, the update still lacks one of users' most requested features: a Start menu like the one in Windows 7. Microsoft previewed a new Start menu in April, but it reportedly won't debut until 2015, possibly as part of Windows 9.

In the meantime, it remains to be seen if the recent update represents the start of a sustained Windows 8.1 upswing. The OS faces challenges due to not only its interface, but also opposition in China. Chinese authorities recently banned the use of Windows 8 on government devices. They cited post-XP security concerns, though political motivations are also ostensibly at play.

Overall, Net Applications found Windows operating systems accounted for 90.99% of the market, with Macs snaring 7.39% and Linux grabbing just 1.62%. Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks was the top version of Apple's OS, with 4.15% of the market. Though Windows remained dominant overall, Apple has been more successful than Microsoft in moving users to its newest platforms. OS X Mavericks was free to most Mac users and accounts for more than 56% of OS X users overall. Windows 8.1 accounts for about 50.2% of combined Windows 8/8.1 users and a little less than 7% of all Windows users.

IT is turbocharging BYOD, but mobile security practices lag behind the growing risk. Also in the Mobile Security issue of InformationWeek: These seven factors are shaping the future of identity as we move to a digital world (free registration required).

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
6/4/2014 | 3:03:06 AM
Re: Microsoft shouldn't have to support everything it's ever produced
I do agree on this. As a software development manager with maintenance responsibility, I do know how painful it is to support an outdated and deprecated product. The extended support contract sounds attractive and win-win deal from the beginning. But soon you will find out how much cost you need to bear and how much pain you will suffer as the vendor. Furthermore, it's a loss to customer as well - by staying with old product, they cannot enjoy the new features/growing user community, which is a loss in the long run.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2014 | 2:22:24 PM
Re: Windows 9
It's interesting that Windows 8.1's reputation is still so poor. I guess the presence of Live Tiles and the absence of a Start button are sticking points.

Windows 8 is an OS that you can learn to use, but the payoff simply isn't there.

Windows 8.1 is an OS that's easier to learn, but again, the payoff still really isn't there.

With Windows 8.1 update, though, I think Microsoft's done a good job. I rarely use the Start screen, but I regularly use a handful of Modern apps. Being able to launch and manipulate them from the taskbar, just like they were desktop apps, is really fast and easy. It takes a bit of configuring to get everything set, but once it's tuned, 8.1 update is just fine. If all things were equal, I'd prefer OS X, but with Windows 8.1 update, I don't think Microsoft's OS has to be avoided. Earlier versions-- yeah, probably wise to steer clear, especially if you don't know what you're in for. But the newest iteration? From a UI perspective, I'm pretty satisfied. Don't love it, could be better-- but it's not a disaster, especially if you spend a few minutes in the settings.

That said, I think Windows 9 will do much better, as you suggest. Microsoft needs a new release to wash away the bad taste left by earlier mistakes. It also needs headline features that sell themselves-- such as a resurrected Start menu. That said, the since-deleted Microsoft Research video that surfaced a few months back gives me some hope that Microsoft will turn Live Tiles into something useful. In the video, the researcher demonstrates tiles that essentially allowed you to access a lot of a given app's controls from within the tile, without fully launching. Not useful for everything, and it'll still be a tough sell on some form factors, but it's nonetheless an intriguing direction.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2014 | 2:07:54 PM
Re: Microsoft shouldn't have to support everything it's ever produced
I'm with Charlie on this one. It's unrealistic to expect Microsoft to support products indefinitely. One can argue that Microsoft might have offered XP users a paid update plan. But to just continue dispensing updates until all XP computers finally melt? That's not sustainable.

With Windows XP, Microsoft was beyond the point of making much money. XP doesn't effectively allow Microsoft to showcase new products, takes up resources that might go toward new innovations, and threatens Microsoft's relationship with developers, among other factors. Granted, one can argue that Microsoft cultivated this mess due to its lack of foresight, and that users shouldn't have to suffer because of its strategic misses. This might be true, but only to a point.

The fact remains that all software companies, at some point, will find it untenable to indefinitely support older products. As long as end-of-life deadlines are clearly published ahead of time and allow for a reasonable produce life (both criteria that Microsoft has fulfilled), I don't see a problem. We simply cannot argue that Microsoft has an obligation to support its products as long as people keep using them. That said, we can argue that Microsoft should have found a way to monetize ongoing Windows XP support, rather than simply dropping the OS altogether--e.g. something like Microsoft offers its biggest enterprise customers, but at a much lower cost, and for everyone. That would give exiting customers a choice, while putting pressure on Microsoft to show how its newer products are worth the upgrade. But if we want to talk about Microsoft offering XP updates via subscription or something, that's a question of the company's execution in handling a huge chunk of users, not its inherent obligations as a maker of software. Quite often, I see people arguing that Microsoft has an intrinsic duty to support XP until users finally decide they've had enough-- which is a different, and less tenable, contention.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
6/3/2014 | 1:28:17 PM
Re: XP
One good thing about the abandonment of XP is that there are a huge number of PC's and laptops on the market now that don't have the horsepower to run 7, let alone 8 or 8.1. I picked up a tiny laptop with a 15 gig SSD instead of a HDD. It runs Ubuntu 12.04, and I'm azazed at what it can do. I'm moving more and more towards Ubuntu, but I will maintain at least one Windows machine into the foreseeable futute, because there is always going to be SOMETHING that I will need to do that can only be done from the Microsoft platform.
Todder
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Todder,
User Rank: Moderator
6/3/2014 | 1:03:53 PM
Re: XP
XP was fine and I was corporately forced to move to Win 7 about 7 months ago. Of course I also got a new laptop and enjoy the clean look & feel of 7 & performance wise it is far superior. Sadly though, like XP, after a while you get perofrmance drag after applying so many service releases and the easiest thing to get that performance share back is a re-image to latest rev and re-load 3rd party stuff.


Our home is largely a Linux shop (me, wife, 3 kids). We run Mint and Ubuntu of various vintages without issue, and even on older hardware Linux beats Windows hands down.
dwebb608
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dwebb608,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/3/2014 | 12:21:00 PM
Re: newest platforms
For some of us, it's because the upgrade from Windows Update won't complete properly, and we don't have the time and/or inclination to find a way to impliment the Win8 ->8.1 update.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
6/3/2014 | 10:49:06 AM
Windows 9
I think like with Windows Vista and its much more successful sequal, Windows 7, we aren't going to see a big move from XP until Windows 9 shows up and only then if it's any good. 

If Microsoft can address the concerns of the many, many people that don't have any plans to move on to Windows 8, it may be able to retain its audience. If not, it risks sending them into the arms of some of the much more consumer friendly Linux distros that are around this days. 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
6/3/2014 | 7:22:24 AM
Re: newest platforms
I think we see the slow upgrade cycle because "things work".  It isn't typically until something stop working or something can't be installed and used that your average computer user even considers the OS.  What kills me though is people with really old PCs blaming the OS that they've been running for the past 10 years for not being able to do what another brand new OS can't do.  
cafzali
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cafzali,
User Rank: Moderator
6/2/2014 | 9:59:32 PM
Re: XP
@Gary_EL Substitute Windows 7 for XP and I'd completely agree with you. There were lots of improvements -- chiefly stability -- that came with Windows 7. But your basic point is spot on in that people are enjoy using various software applications and don't really care about the OS. It's only when developers are motivated/pushed to make apps that won't run on older OSes do most people bother upgrading.

This is doubly true now that computer reliability has gotten much better than it was even a few years ago.
cafzali
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cafzali,
User Rank: Moderator
6/2/2014 | 9:56:15 PM
Re: newest platforms
@mak63 That's a great point, even more so when you consider the fact that Apple's percentage isn't weighed down as much by large corporate clients that stay one release behind. Add to that, Apple gives major updates away whereas Microsoft doesn't, so if you can't get radically more people to adopt a new OS despite giving it away, that shows most aren't really as motivated by OS upgrades as companies would like them to be.
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