Microsoft continues to face two dilemmas: Too many people are clinging to Windows XP, and too few are buying Windows 8, says research firm Net Applications.
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Microsoft's recent financial disclosures have made clear that Windows 8 isn't doing well. Web-monitoring firm Net Applications added more evidence on Thursday with its newest market share report. The data indicates relatively negligible growth for the OS, with would-be customers ostensibly in a holding pattern ahead of Windows 8.1's release.
Also distressing for Microsoft: The report suggests little change in Windows XP's market share. The decade-old OS is scheduled to lose support in April, meaning Microsoft will no longer issue security patches and other updates. The company has been urging customers to upgrade, but with XP still claiming over 37% of the market, those efforts haven't yet translated into tangible results.
Windows 8's share grew to 5.4% of the total PC market, up from 5.1% in June. This is only a 6% month-over-month increase, down precipitously from the 19% improvement it posted from May to June.
With sales decelerating, Microsoft will look to Windows 8.1 to jumpstart interest this fall. The OS update includes a number of refinements and enhancements, including a boot-to-desktop option, a more polished and customizable UI, and Internet Explorer 11.
Windows 7 remained the top OS overall, although its market share was, like Windows 8's, relatively unchanged. Net Applications reported that Windows 7 accounted for 44.49% of the field, up slightly from 44.37% in June.
Windows XP, which has become the OS that refuses to die, was second, with 37.19% of PCs. This is actually a small increase over June's 37.17%. Given the way Net Applications calculates market share, however, such a small uptick doesn't indicate much. The firm derives data by monitoring 40,000 client websites, which attract 160 million unique monthly visitors. Some imprecision is inevitable.
Nevertheless, users are clearly in no hurry to abandon Windows XP. The OS claimed almost 40% of PC users last November, and its share has hovered around 37% for the last three months. Windows XP holdouts are motivated by a variety of factors; some users are content to keep using XP because of its reliability, many businesses face software compatibility issues if they upgrade, some businesses don't have the budgets to buy new hardware needed to run a modern OS, and so on. If Microsoft can't accelerate progress, XP's looming end-of-service deadline could cause headaches.
Windows Vista continued its slow spiral into complete obsolescence. It dropped from 4.62% to 4.24%. Mac OS X 10.8, the most popular version of Apple's desktop platform, improved slightly, expanding from 3.14% in June to 3.28% in July.
Overall, various versions of Windows held a combined 91.56% of the market, up slightly from 91.51% in June and consistent with the figures from the past year. OS X aggregately claimed 7.19% of the market, which was also consistent with its June totals, and those over the last year.
Although the PC market's OS hierarchy was relatively static in July, the pecking order could shift by this fall. Microsoft hopes to attract back-to-school and holiday shoppers with cheaper devices, sizes that range from x86-compatible 8-inch tablets to 30-inch touchscreen PCs, and Windows 8.1. Apple, meanwhile, hopes to advance OS X's share with its recently refreshed MacBook Air models, as well as forthcoming updates to its MacBook Pro and desktop lineups.
Windows 7's share should also increase throughout the fall and into 2014, as more enterprises leave XP. Windows 8 could also benefit from enterprise migrations as well, especially with many companies expected to undergo hardware refreshes starting next year.
Windows 8 is playing from a very weak position, however. This means that even if sales increase, the OS's market share might merely improve from terrible to mediocre. It's almost a given that Windows 8 will be in better position by the end of the year, but it's unclear whether the OS will ultimately help or hinder CEO Steve Ballmer's "one Microsoft" plan.