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Windows 8 Adoption Hits New Low

After stabilizing over the last few months, Windows 8 adoption fell off a cliff in May. Can Windows 8.1 turn things around this summer?
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8 Things Microsoft Should Fix In Windows Blue
Windows 8 finally has more users than Windows Vista, according to the newest figures released by market-tracking firm Net Applications. Even so, Microsoft's controversial OS posted its worst improvement rate to date, falling farther behind legacy comparisons. As a result, pressure continues to mount on Windows 8.1 (previously called Windows Blue) the major update that is expected to debut as a public preview later this month.

Windows 8 snared 4.27% of the market in May, up from 3.82% in April. Windows 7, meanwhile, continued to be the world's most-used OS; it already led the field in April with 44.7% of users but nonetheless managed to increase its reach to 44.85% of the market. Windows XP, which will lose support in less than a year, held on to 37.74% of the market, off 1.5% from April's 38.3%.

Windows Vista -- one of the most criticized operating systems in Microsoft history, and the product critics most often compare to Windows 8 -- clung to 4.5% of the market, easing from last month's 4.75%. May was the first month that Win8's user share exceeded that of its derided predecessor.

Though Windows 8 finally moved out of Vista's shadow, the last few weeks nonetheless painted a discouraging picture of the OS's progress.

[ What are the most important fixes Redmond should make? Read 5 Windows 8 Gripes Microsoft Must Address. ]

For one thing, interest in the OS -- never great to begin with -- has evidently begun to flag. As measured by the 160 million users and 40,000 websites Net Applications monitors, Windows 8's market penetration in May showed only an 11.8% uptick relative to April. This reverses a recent upward trend. Following its debut, the OS suffered monthly momentum drops until February, after which Win8 began expanding its market share by around 20% per month. But May fell well short of this mark, even with Microsoft hawking dubiously impressive Win8 shipment figures.

It's possible that sales took a hit once Microsoft publically acknowledged that Windows 8.1 exists, of course. But the update will be free, somewhat diminishing the incentive buyers have to wait. And even if consumers are waiting to upgrade until they've seen the newly restored Start button, a Win Blue-driven sales slowdown only emphasizes that Redmond's update needs to deliver clear improvements.

Indeed, May's numbers are bad news for Windows 8 not only because of the OS's deceleration but also because its win over Vista is a shallow victory. Win8 has only exceeded the scraps that Vista has retained over the years, after many dissatisfied users had either moved back to Windows XP or forward to Windows 7. Windows 8's progress still trails the usage share Vista had achieved through the same period in its release.

That said, the news isn't all bad for Microsoft. Though Windows 7's relatively marginal increase shouldn't be over-emphasized, it nonetheless suggests some retiring XP systems are being swapped out for Win7 versions. Indeed, though enterprises can no longer dismiss the importance of mobile devices such as tablets, traditional PCs will remain important for the foreseeable future. Net Applications data suggests that over the last year, OS X has eaten slightly into the Windows user base -- but given that one Windows version or another still runs more than 90% of the world's PCs, it's hard to imagine that Microsoft's role in core business tasks has been threatened.

That is, with so many businesses still invested in Windows 7 migrations, Microsoft doesn't necessarily need Windows 8 to become an immediate enterprise sensation; rather, Redmond needs to lure consumers to retain its desktop share while remaining a niche player in the growing field of tablets and smartphones.

That goal redirects directly to whether or not Windows 8.1 succeeds in making the OS more user-friendly and engaging. If Microsoft succeeds, July's usage numbers -- the first that could benefit from a Win8.1 public preview -- could reverse May's slowdown. If Redmond's update flops, however, last month might be only the first in a new string of declines.

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