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3/4/2014
12:45 PM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Windows 8.1 Update: Can It End The Rut?

Microsoft users have been surprisingly indifferent to Windows 8.1. The company needs this spring's Win 8.1 update to reverse the trend.

Windows XP Shutdown: 10 Facts To Know
Windows XP Shutdown: 10 Facts To Know
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

This spring, Microsoft will release a Windows 8.1 update intended to make the touch-oriented OS more agreeable to mouse-and-keyboard users, and to enable OEMs to produce cheaper devices of all form factors. Based on the newest market-share statistics, it's easy to see why the company is pushing these angles: Despite recent device price cuts and Windows 8.1's improvements, Microsoft's newest OS continues to perform modestly, on both tablets and PCs.

Research firm Gartner reported Monday that Windows tablets accounted for just 2.1% of the market in 2013, compared to 36% for iPads and almost 62% for Android slates. This figure is actually worse than the meager 3.4% Windows share that IDC estimated in December.

[Is Windows really losing share to Chrome OS? Read Where Are All The Chromebooks?]

Gartner found that Windows tablets more than doubled both in shipments and market share in 2013, a period during which iPads increased shipments by only around 14.5% and lost share overall. But given Microsoft's lowly starting position and late entry, this growth wasn't much of a victory. Android expanded at an even faster rate, and iPads, despite trailing overall market growth, maintained a stranglehold over the most lucrative segments. They also ended the year on an upward note, thanks to the introduction of new models.

"Apple's tablets remain strong in the higher end of the market, [forcing] vendors to compete with full ecosystem offerings, even in the smaller-screen market as the iPad Mini sees a greater share," Gartner research director Roberta Cozza said in a statement. Gartner noted that Windows has better share among productivity-oriented mobile devices but has "failed to capture major consumers' interest on tablets."

The OS's status is somewhat better on the desktop. According to web-tracking firm Net Applications, Windows 8 and 8.1 combined for 10.68% of desktop users in February, up slightly from January. Despite Microsoft's recent efforts to move customers off of Windows XP, which will lose service next month, the 10-year-old OS still commanded 29.53% of the market. February was the second consecutive month in which Net Applications recorded an increase in Windows XP usage. Windows 7 continued to lead the market, with more than 47% of desktop users.

As a free update for Windows 8 users, Windows 8.1 has had only a modest impact. (Image: Net Applications)
As a free update for Windows 8 users, Windows 8.1 has had only a modest impact. (Image: Net Applications)

Windows 8 and 8.1's 10.68% share isn't insignificant. All Mac OS X users combined represent only 7.68% of the market, meaning millions more people are running Windows 8/8.1 than are using any type of Apple PC. Nevertheless, Microsoft's newest OS trails earlier versions' precedents by a significant margin.

Indeed, the Net Application figures indicate troublingly soft Windows 8.1 adoption. The update is free to all Windows 8 users, but nearly 60% of Win 8/8.1 users are still running the original version. Given that Windows 8.1 addressed many of the complaints that limited demand in the first place, such indifference is surprising.

The coming update could help Microsoft increase Windows 8.1's share, especially in emerging markets where low-cost Android devices are particularly popular. A similar optimism seemed valid back in July, when Windows 8.1 was confirmed and Windows 8 controlled a paltry 5.4% of the desktop market. Since then, that user base has almost doubled, with growth trailing off over the last few months.

If the new update achieves a comparable result, Windows 8/8.1 could have close to 20% of the desktop market (which includes traffic from Windows 8.1 tablets) by this fall. That's certainly a formidable figure for almost any company -- but it would still represent only two-thirds the share that Windows XP has retained while sitting on its deathbed.

It would also leave Microsoft a distant third on the mobile scene. This problem isn't limited to the consumer markets. iPads dominate enterprise tablet deployments to almost the same degree Windows machines dominate in PCs. There's still money to be made in third place, especially for a company as diversified as Microsoft. But again, compared to historical precedents and the company's admitted ambitions, this sort of progress doesn't measure up.

For reference, Microsoft handled threats from netbooks much more effectively than it has tablets. "Most early netbooks tended to run Linux, but as they gained acceptance in 2008, more and more manufacturers offered them with Windows, and now Windows runs on 70% of netbooks sold," InformationWeek's Charles Babcock wrote in 2009. "That may seem like a lot, but Microsoft is used to market share of greater than 90% on PCs, and its margins on netbooks are lower."

For many Windows 8.1 devices, margins are likely even lower than during the netbook boom, which explains the stream of mostly unconfirmed reports that Microsoft has slashed license costs for OEMs. Rumors, some from reliable sources, also claim Microsoft is entertaining even more radical Windows changes, including a free version of Windows designed to monetize Bing and other services, and a version that runs both Android and Windows apps. Such rumors have popped up before, but given that the influx of new Windows users has decreased alongside margins, the claims aren't as surprising as they once were.

Whether Microsoft adopts such seemingly unlikely tactics will depend on not only the new leadership regime settling in under CEO Satya Nadella, but also the performance of the upcoming update. If low-cost devices and another update increase adoption of Microsoft services such as OneDrive and Office 365, the company can still come out ahead in the end. But for now, Windows 8.1's progress has lived up to neither the company's goals nor many users' expectations.

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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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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/5/2014 | 3:17:29 PM
Re: Windows 8.1
Yep, if people had been allowed to run Windows 8 on older XP hardware, I don't see how the experience would have been anything but terrible. It wasn't even particularly good (at least until Win 8.1 came along) on non-touch Windows 7 hardware. But I wouldn't judge Microsoft too harshly for this tactic. Windows 8 and 8.1 are certainly open to design criticism, but the march of technology waits for no user, and after a certain point, backward compatibility becomes untenable. Apple does the same thing with iPhones. Plus, a new Windows laptop might soon cost about the same as a new iPhone 5S.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/5/2014 | 3:10:46 PM
Re: There are other aspects which make Windows 8 story a little better
"Microsoft needs to be patient. The new OS is good and over a period of time, it will become the OS of choice for most. It will take time though to happen."

You bring up several good points, himanshusingh, but I don't agree with your conclusion. Historically, Windows has been "the OS of choice for most." But as this article explores, Windows 8 and 8.1 are falling short of historical precedents-- and not by just a little bit. I think it's fair to say Windows 8/8.1/9 (or whatever future iterations with Live Tiles are called) will become more popular, and it might become the chosen platform for certain market segments and device categories. But to achieve beyond that, the OS will need a bigger boost than Microsoft has been able to provide so far. My argument isn't that Windows 8 is a flop; a lot of CEOs would sacrifice their first-born child to have such a ubiquitous product. But even if Windows 8 isn't an out-and-out flop, that doesn't mean it's not a disappointment, and that it isn't particularly helping Microsoft to stave off disruption.

 
ANON1254157396540
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ANON1254157396540,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/5/2014 | 3:10:26 PM
Re: Windows 8.1
I agree, new hardware is becoming cheap enough that old XP boxes should just be taken out back and shot.

I recently watched someone replace an old XP box (Dell Precision gx270) with a new $250 Windows 8.1 box (Lenovo AMD A-4 5000 with 4GB RAM) because this was easier than buying a copy of Windows 8.1 or fixing the virus problem on the XP box.  The desktop snappiness was almost ok.   

If Windows 8.1 had been a free download, they would have tried installing that instead of buying a new computer.  I suppose that's why Windows has not been a free download so far :-)
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/5/2014 | 3:01:25 PM
Re: There are other aspects which make Windows 8 story a little better
Thanks for sharing your experience, bttlk. I think the training concerns might be a bit overblown, as your post suggests. Somewhere between 150 and 170 million people are using the OS now, Windows 8.1 made the UI more user-friendly, and it looks like Update 1 will take another step. If someone has never seen Windows 8 before, I think they'll find it baffling. But between the OS becoming more common (it even has weekly and ostentatious product placement on "The Following") and Microsoft making it easier to use, many users can be trained with minimal fuss. I wouldn't be surprised if could train an employee to competently use Windows 8 faster than you could a brand new CMS or CRM product.

There are concerns in addition to training, of course; as I mentioned earlier, the perceived benefit of upgrading seems to an issue, though Microsoft is slowly pulling more Modern line-of-business apps into its ecosystem. It's all headed in the right direction-- but as this article explores, Win 8's trajectory doesn't suggest it will have the influence of past releases. There's a difference between "big player" and "biggest player."

 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/5/2014 | 2:51:24 PM
Re: Windows 8.1
I think it's inaccurate to say Windows 8 doesn't offer improvements relative to Windows 7-- it does. But, depending on your perspective, it also includes a few steps backward (though many of them can be overcome with only a little effort-- installing a Start Menu app, enabling boot-to-desktop, or doing whatever else to shape the UI to your preference).

For many, I think the improvements simply weren't persuasive enough. Miracast is cool, but are you going to buy a new tablet or convertible just for that feature? Touchscreens have use, but for many, that use is more evident on horizontal surfaces (e.g. tablets) than vertical ones (e.g. laptops and desktops). As I mentioned elsewhere in this thread, I find Windows 8 systems to be stable and fast, but I can see why people who were happy with Windows 7 haven't necessarily jumped at the upgrade, especially if it would have required purchasing a new device. This might have been true even if the Modern UI hadn't been so divisive. The fact that it's been so polarizing has only exacerbated Win 8's adoption difficulty.

 

 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
3/5/2014 | 2:41:51 PM
Re: Windows 8.1
@ANON: Yeah, we'll see. It's definitely a problem right now. The vast majority of old Windows XP machines aren't gonna run Windows 8.1. There's been some chatter about Windows 8.1 Update 1 reducing the OS's footprint and enabling it to run on lesser hardware-- so perhaps there's hope. But from what I can glean, that effort has more to do with encouraging OEMs to produce cheap devices than with extending the life of 10-year-old computers.


But what about those cheap devices? If you're running XP at home, I can understand the hesitancy to shell out $1000 or even $500 for a new PC. But if an OEM released a non-touch Windows device with build quality of a mid-range Chromebook for $250, would any XP holdouts be interested?

I get the feeling a lot of people still using XP resent that Microsoft is effectively forcing them to buy new machines. For many, this objection is no doubt legitimate, but for others, I wonder. Even though the marginal benefit from new processors has dwindled in recent generations, I'm often surprised that some people with decade-old computers are so aggressively opposed to new machines. I can certainly appreciate the financial considerations, especially if the aging computer continues to be "good enough." But I really wonder how some people define "good enough." In my experience, if you're still using XP (or even a lot of Win 7 machines out there, for that matter), you're gonna spend a fair amount of timing waiting for pages to load, dealing with application crashes or system freezes, and generally managing other productivity-killing time wasters. And to be clear, I'm only talking about moderate multi-tasking, not power use cases. Windows 8.1 offers plenty of ammunition for criticism, but at least it and the newer machines on which it runs are fast and stable. But maybe I've been unlucky with aging computers.

 
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
3/5/2014 | 1:57:07 PM
Re: Windows 8.1
OK, now I understand.  Win 8 is good because YOU say it is.  We're all wrong.


Pardon me, but maybe about 90% of users hate it for reasons you've missed or don't care about.  I don't think you're winning any friends by denigrating everyone else's value judgements about what's important and what's offensive.

So sad....

 
bttlk
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bttlk,
User Rank: Strategist
3/5/2014 | 1:35:11 PM
Re: There are other aspects which make Windows 8 story a little better
We have migrated about 20% of our user base this year from XP or Windows 7 to Windows 8.  This was done with minimal user training, and we have had very few questions and no problems after the migration.  Users are using 4-5 applications simultaneously and on the Internet.  We had more problems in the past with some prior OS upgrades and suite upgrades.  DO NOT BE AFRAID.  Train one or two IT staff and you are set to go.

Also, survey your user base being upgraded.  You may be surprised at how many are using Windows 8 at home.  That will make the transition smoother for all involved.
bttlk
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bttlk,
User Rank: Strategist
3/5/2014 | 1:31:08 PM
Re: Windows 8.1
Li Tan;

There are numerous differences in Windows 7 to Windows 8, both in the desktop and Modern presentations, Speed, security, touch to name a major few items are different.  Do a little research and discover many more enhancements.  Consumers are using Windows tablets like they do an Android or iPad, with the added advantage of being to use appliccations (not apps, there is a difference) like the Office suite or Outlook email. Your false statement is nobody considers it an OS for portables and pads.  I use a Windows phone for that also.  Please get your facts straight before posting on a blog, you mislead uneducated readers.
bttlk
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bttlk,
User Rank: Strategist
3/5/2014 | 1:23:22 PM
Re: What is wrong with Windows IMHO
J0el, why write a book for a short 2 paragraph summary!  Way too long for most to read on a blog.  I disagree with your analysis and methods to workaround what is a perfectly good OS, an OS you haven't taken time to understand (a very simple task by the way.  I guess your age as being early 60's, same as myself, so the old guy excuse won't work for you either.  I use Windows 8.1 on several devices and greatly prefer it to Windows 7.
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