Microsoft Windows 8.1 Rises As Win XP Plummets - InformationWeek

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12/2/2014
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Microsoft Windows 8.1 Rises As Win XP Plummets

After struggling for months to gain users, Windows 8 and 8.1 finally have eclipsed Windows XP in market share.

10 Windows Tablets, Laptops Under $200: Holiday Steals
10 Windows Tablets, Laptops Under $200: Holiday Steals
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Has Microsoft finally turned a corner with Windows 8 and 8.1? That might be pushing it, but after barely showing a pulse for most of 2014, Microsoft's divisive operating system is finally making significant strides.

For most of the year, Win 8/8.1 user share has trailed that of Windows XP. This slow progress has posed an embarrassing dilemma for Microsoft; after all, if your customers prefer an unsupported, 13-year-old product to your newest, most cutting-edge update, you've got a problem. But based on the latest web usage statistics, Win 8/8.1 has not only shot ahead of Windows XP, but could also account for one out of every five active PCs worldwide by the end of the year.

Around 18.65% of active PC users ran Windows 8 or 8.1 in November, with almost two-thirds of those users running Windows 8.1, according to web-tracking firm Net Applications. Win 8/8.1 held only 10.56% of the market in January and had grown to only 12.26% by September. Thanks both to back-to-school sales and a fleet of new, ultra-affordable Windows tablets and laptops, Windows 8 and 8.1 jumped to 16.8% in October, gaining more share in one month than it had the rest of the year and setting up November's continued momentum.

Windows XP, in contrast, accounted for nearly 30% of active PCs last January, and still represented around a quarter of the market in July. Its share has declined rapidly in recent months, dropping to only 13.57% in November.

Windows 7 meanwhile maintained its position as the world's most dominant OS, with over 53.7% of users in November. While consumers' holiday shopping has ostensibly helped Windows 8 and 8.1 gain share, Windows 7 continues to be the default in the business world.

[Will a $50 tablet make a good stocking stuffer? Read Tablet Shopping: 7 Tips To Avoid Buyer's Remorse.]

Overall, more than 91% of PCs ran some version of Windows last month, while a little more than 7% used some kind of Mac. According to Net Applications, both those statistics have remained broadly constant over the past year, though other sources -- notably Apple's last earnings disclosure -- show that Mac sales have been on the rise.

Based on the new figures, Windows 8 and 8.1 have clearly taken a bite out of Windows XP share, but it's hard to say how much. This month, Net Applications introduced a new sampling methodology designed to address Windows XP's disproportionately high use in China, where government agencies have been barred from upgrading to Windows 8 due to alleged security concerns. This means the firm's earlier statistics somewhat inflate actual Windows XP usage, making historical comparisons difficult.

Source: Net Applications
Source: Net Applications

Despite some noise in the Net Applications numbers, StatCounter, another firm that tracks web usage, arrived at broadly similar conclusions. StatCounter calculated that Windows 8 and 8.1 accounted for more than 15.5% of PC usage last month, compared to less than 11% for Windows XP. The firm also found that Windows 7 represented over half of all PC usage.

Though Net Applications and StatCounter's estimates somewhat corroborate one another, the firms collect data in different ways. Using its network of over 40,000 websites and 160 million unique users, Net Applications measures individual users and weights results to adjust for various geographic biases. StatCounter, on the other hand, relies on data from millions of sites but measures total web traffic, rather than individual users. As a result, Net Applications speaks more to user share, whereas StatCounter refers more to usage share.

Regardless of differences between various statistics, it's clear that after flailing for months, Windows 8 and 8.1 have finally built up some steam -- good news for Microsoft. If more people use Windows 8.1, Microsoft should see increased use of cloud services related to the OS, such as OneDrive. Also, the larger the Win 8.1 user base, the more easily Microsoft should be able to move people to Windows 10 when it launches in the middle of next year. On the other hand, many of the new, budget-priced Windows 8.1 devices lack touchscreens. Even if these models drive sales, they're not necessarily increasing user interest in Modern-style apps or Microsoft's tiled touch-based UI.

So far, Microsoft's Windows 10 Technical Preview has focused on the desktop experience, where improvements will include a new Start menu, virtual desktops, improved security, and a variety of other features. The company has revealed less about Windows 10's touch-oriented functionality, with execs promising to disclose more in early 2015. According to recent rumors, Microsoft could release a consumer preview of Windows 10 for smartphones and tablets (and perhaps also tie-ins for the Xbox) in January, shortly after the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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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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nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2014 | 5:52:41 AM
Re: How to count: Let us count the ways!
@Li Tan I believe that many bosses who doesn't have enough technical expertise would consider an OS upgrade as an overhead. For them it would be something which is not bringing any positive change to their organization in terms of performance or additional functionalities. Especially government organization would have limited budgets and an upgrade project would be difficult to get attention from authorizer level.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
12/3/2014 | 8:57:31 AM
Re: How to count: Let us count the ways!
I agree - this is indeed the case. Enterprise is more active in doing necessary IT upgrade but normally government is reluctant to do it. As the end user using basic office applications, many government agencies do not have the motivation to upgrade as long as the major functionality is still "working".
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
12/3/2014 | 7:50:59 AM
Skewed numbers and the 99$ tablet
Since NetApp hand picks and frequently changes the sites it monitors the numbers are not comparable over a longer range and in itself are questionable. Besides that, browser user agent strings are incredibily easy to fake and sadly still a necessity to get the pesky IE-only sites to work in a real web browser. Concluding that site hits equal OS market share is a very long shot. Sadly, none of the media outlets ever publish the margin of error of the NetApp numbers, I bet the margin is quite large making many of the changes reported fairly meaningless.

Giving the benefit of the doubt, the uptick in Win8 numbers might be rooted in the introduction of the 99$ Windows tablet. That is a price point where even a Win RT device only hurts mildly (although anything running RT is and always was a waste of money).

The only thing we can say is that the us of XP will go down over the next years....a logical development and none that requires goofy stats. So, please, either report margin of error or stop reporting the cooked NetApp numbers. I also wonder how much Microsoft paid NetApp to drop the sites that used to boost the XP numbers.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
12/3/2014 | 7:08:00 AM
Re: How to count: Let us count the ways!
I've heard form security specialist friends of mine that we would be shocked to learn how many government systems use XP, even ones that do have internet access. IE 6 was apparently a common feature in many departments too. 

Someone needs to figure out a better way of upgrading government systems, as they seem to fall so far behind it's laughable. 

 
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
12/2/2014 | 3:16:49 PM
Re: How to count: Let us count the ways!
I guess these stats would more accurately described as operating system share as measured by PC Internet surfing habits. Where mobile operating systems part of the same or separate measures?

One (presumably small) slice of the computing universe forgotten by Internet surfing measures would be PC's out there used in various business roles where surfing the Internet just isn't an option. I recall seeing a PC at the end of a jetway at the airport this summer. Presumably it was there for use with the airline's baggage or boarding system. This workstation wasn't being used by anybody at the time, so the Windows XP logo was blinking its way across the sceen in screen-saver mode.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/2/2014 | 2:04:09 PM
Re: How to count: Let us count the ways!
It's definitely mushy, though I think we can partially address some of these questions. I honestly hadn't thought about how demonstration models sitting in, say, Best Buy or an Apple store might affect these statistics, but I suppose that they could. For Net Applications, if someone playing with a display computer happens to access a website in the relevant network, I believe that computer would count as a single "user." If another shopper at the store comes up to the display computer a few minutes later and happens to load another site in the Net Applications network, the second shopper wouldn't count as an additional user, and thus would not further inflate that machine's statistical impact. StatCounter, on the other hand, would count both shoppers toward an aggregate usage statistic, however.

As for PCs sitting in warehouses and so on... I don't think those have any influence. To count towards either sets of data, a PC has to access the public Internet and, moreover, load a page that one of the web-tracking agencies happens to have in its network. Likewise, if some businesses have XP machines running isolated apps on closed networks, I don't see how Net Applications or StatCounter would see them.

Neither methodology is perfect, but Net Applications tries to count how many people are using each OS during a given month-- an interesting if intrinsically limited statistic, given that not all users are equally interesting, depending on what you want to know. StatCounter tries to measure which OSes are contributing the most web traffic in a given month-- a different, also interesting, but also intrinsically limited statistic. A population of extreme power users could heavily sway the StatCounter statistics whereas a couple million aging computer turned on once a month for email might inflate an older OS's importance in the Net Applications numbers-- and those are best case scenarios, assuming  the numbers aren't corrupted in other ways (which they almost certainly are). We don't have particular insight into the specific sites scanned, for example-- how representative they are for this sort of macro-scale extrapolation, and so on. So it's an imprecise picture, to be sure-- but if we take it with those limitations, I think some useful trends can be discerned—e.g. all those cheap Windows 8.1 devices have most likely driven up sales.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
12/2/2014 | 1:39:45 PM
How to count: Let us count the ways!
It sounds like the difference between StatCounter and Net Applications and stats is "usage" and "existence," respectively. In the case of StatCounter it sounds like they're counting actual people using computers. With Net Applications, it's less clear how they're counting -- unless I missed something. Is it installed operating systems out there in the world, perhaps including those in warehouse and on store shelves waiting to be sold?

Another question is how does anyone determine that a given license is no longer in use? How many of us have old XP-based machines sitting in basements or attics that could, technically speaking, still be used. I suppose Microsoft knows when a licensed operating system hasn't phoned home in more than X months, but counting operating system market share seems like a mushy science.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/2/2014 | 11:20:00 AM
Re: Why more Win 8 use?
@Somedude8,


I think it has much more to do with Win 8.1 being on the vast majority of PCs that consumers see available online and in stores. If you were thinking of snagging one of those $200 Windows notebooks that just hit the market, for example, you're going to get Windows 8.1, whether you want it or not.

That said, I'm sure some people have gradually warmed up to Windows 8.1 and are making a purchase based primarily on the OS, or at least some aspect of it. Some people have probably also been swayed by Office 365 subscriptions, which are bundled with most of the cheap Windows 8.1 tablets and notebooks. In fact, on Black Friday, a few Windows 8.1 tablets were so cheap, they offered less expensive access to Office 365 than purchasing a subscription outright--e.g. $60 for a tablet with one-year Office 365 subscription vs. $70 for that subscription outright.
Somedude8
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50%
Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
12/2/2014 | 11:10:38 AM
Why more Win 8 use?
It would be interesting to know if the increase is due more to "Hey I want Win 8 on my new machine" or just that Win 8 happens to be what the new computer came with.
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