Windows by the numbers: Real gains or just an illusion?

A sudden spike of Windows' overall share led to increased user numbers for both Windows 10 and Windows 7.

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Windows by the numbers: October 2019

"Friends, users, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Windows 7, not to praise her.
The evil that software does lives after it;
The good is oft interred with its bones.
So let it be with Windows 7."
— Windows 10

Orating the funeral of a venerable predecessor is what Windows 10 does these days. And it's happy to do so.

According to data published Friday by analytics vendor Net Applications, Windows 10's share of all personal computers jumped 1.9 percentage points — the fourth consecutive month with gains of a full point or more — to end October with 54.3%. Meanwhile, Windows 10's portion of the user share of all Windows PCs rose to 62.7%, closing in on the major milestone of two-thirds.

(The percentage of Windows PCs is larger than the percentage of all personal computers because Windows does not power every desktop or notebook. In October, Windows ran 86.8% of the world's systems. Of the remainder, all but a quarter of one percent ran macOS, Linux or Chrome OS, with Apple's operating system the largest of the trio.)

As always in the zero-sum struggle for user share, Windows 10's advance foretold Windows 7's retreat. In October, Windows 7's share dropped by 1.3 percentage points to 26.9% of all PCs and 31% of those powered by Windows of one flavor or another. Last month's decline was the smallest in the last four months, but still represented a 25% increase over the average of the last 12.

There's no question that Windows 7's decline has accelerated. Over the last six months, Windows 7 has shed more than 9.5 percentage points, or three-fourths of all losses in the past year. The six-month number was a record for the 10-year-old operating system. And Windows 7 rang up losses of 4.9 points during the past three months, a slightly faster clip yet.

The pace was quicker than XP's before its retirement. During the same six-month stretch prior to Windows XP's support expiration in 2014, that OS dropped 8 percentage points, 1.5 fewer than did Windows 7. And in the three months that corresponded to Windows 7's decline of nearly 5 points, XP lost just 2 points.

Microsoft will retire Windows 7 on Jan. 14, 2020, or in about 10 weeks. The Redmond, Wash. will deliver the final security updates to customers on that date, although businesses will be able to purchase post-termination patches through the Extended Security Updates (ESU) program.

Windows 7: Weaker but not dead yet

Although the last four months have rejiggered the Windows 7-to-10 landscape, the decade-old corporate veteran isn't about to just lie down and die.

Yes, Computerworld's latest forecast — based on the 12-month average — has Windows 7 powering 26.2% of all Windows PCs on January 31, 2020, nearly two points lower than the prediction of only a month ago and 4.5 points under July's prognostication. But even a year after its departure from public support, Windows 7 will still run an astounding number of personal computers.

In January 2021, Windows 7 should still account for 12% of all Windows operating systems, about one in every eight PCs and equivalent to approximately 180 million machines.

The stubborn remainder may be larger than that. When Windows XP fell off the support list, it accounted for about 29% of all Windows OSes. Two years later — April 2016 — XP had shrunk, of course, but still accounted for 11.9% of all Windows. If Windows 7 follows that line rather than the one now forecast — and remember, the current prediction is based on a very aggressive decline — it, too, would retain a double-digit share as late as 2022.

(Counter-intuitive it may be — one would think users would want to get off an outdated OS as quickly as possible — but historically, operating system declines have slowed after the retirement date has come and gone. The pressure of a deadline has disappeared and users, some of them anyway, may believe in for a penny, in for a pound, and keep running the unpatched software.)

Applying Net Applications' numbers in crafting projections also brings clarity to another interesting element of the Windows 7-to-10 transition: Windows 10 will soon boast record user share numbers.

By December, according to the newest forecast, Windows 10 will account for 67.3% of all Windows OSes, a fraction that will be larger than Windows 7's at its peak. In June 2015, the month before Windows 10 debuted, Windows 7 had a 67.1% share of all Windows.

Windows 10 may even exceed Windows XP's command of the Windows ecosystem. In February 2007, at XP's highest point in Net Applications' measurements, the then-six-year-old OS powered 90.6% of all Windows PCs. (That astounding number was possible because XP's successor — the flop Vista — was late in launching and XP's forerunners, such as Windows 98 or Windows Me, had been retired or stunk, respectively.)

By the linear projection composed of Windows 10's last 12 months of movement, the OS — the last Windows, Microsoft has said, with no replacement as they have been traditionally understood — should own 90.8% of the Windows share by March 2021.

Net Applications calculates operating system share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers people use to reach the websites of Net Applications' clients. The firm tallies visitor sessions to measure browser activity.

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