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Windows by the numbers: Windows 10 resumes march towards endless dominance

Microsoft’s users last month resumed purging their PCs of Windows 7, but as the operating system’s retirement countdown neared single-digit days, it still powered hundreds of millions of machines worldwide.

According to data published Wednesday by web analytics company Net Applications, Windows 7’s December share of all personal computers slipped by two-tenths of a percentage point – a small difference from a flat November – to end the year at 26.6%. Windows 7’s portion of the user share of just Windows PCs fell four-tenths of a point, to 30.8%.

(The percentage of Windows PCs is larger than the percentage of all personal computers because Windows does not run every desktop and laptop. In December, Windows powered 86.8% of the world’s personal computers (an increase of seven-tenths of a percentage point). Of the remainder, all but a tiny fraction ran macOS, Linux or Chrome OS, in that order of decreasing popularity.)

Typically, Windows 7 and its successor, Windows 10, are in equilibrium: As one falls, the other climbs by about the same amount. December was different, due in part to the increase in Windows overall. While Windows 7 slumped by just a tad, Windows 10 jumped. The latter’s share closed the month at 54.6% of all PCs, up 1.3 points. Windows 10 accounted for 63% of the desktop and notebook systems running Windows, a record.

Microsoft will retire Windows 7 on Jan. 14, or in a week and a half. The Redmond, Wash. firm will deliver the final security updates to customers on that date, although businesses can purchase post-retirement patches through the Extended Security Updates (ESU) program.

Windows 7’s hourglass running out of sand

Windows 7, close enough to its expiration date to smell the grave, will continue to power devices for years to come if the past is any kind of predictor.

Windows 7’s complete pause in November and the lackadaisical decline of December means that Computerworld‘s forecast of future changes – based on the latest 12-month average – has again morphed. According to that prediction, Windows 7 will be running 29.7% of all Windows PCs on Jan. 31, two weeks after its official retirement. If that fraction doesn’t seem significant, 446 million should; that’s the estimated number of Windows 7 PCs represented by the 29.7%. A lot of systems will continue to rely on Windows 7 after Microsoft shoves it into retirement.

A year from now – on Jan. 1, 2021 – Windows 7 should account for a still-major 18.7% of all Windows (or approximately 281 million machines). Meanwhile, Windows 10 will be on 80% of Windows devices. That still wouldn’t match Windows XP at its height. In February 2007, as far back as Computerworld‘s records go for Net Applications’ numbers, XP powered an astounding 90.6% of all Windows.

Windows XP, which was officially retired in April 2014, more than half a decade ago, still runs 20 million or so PCs worldwide. Its share, which dropped by seven-tenths of a percentage point to 1.2% in December, has been on a very slow decline. The last time it knew double digits was July 2016; it’s spent the intervening years dwindling from 10% to its current level. Expect Windows 7 to mimic that (at the worst) or – more likely – remain viable much longer than XP, as the holdouts reject the radical servicing model of Windows 10 as long as they can.

(The Windows 7 numbers from Net Applications will almost certainly be an undercount, at least until the three-year ESU program ends, because the metrics company, like any which measure Internet traffic, cannot detect only-inside-the-enterprise PCs.)

Elsewhere in Net Applications’ numbers, Windows 8/8.1 mysteriously added four-tenths of a percentage point to its user share last month, reaching 4.3%. The increase has to be a measurement gone awry, as the operating system has been shrinking more or less steadily since Windows 10 appeared in 2015. (Side note: 8/8.1 has to go down in Windows history-so-far as the century’s flop. It topped out around 16%, a fifth less than the more spectacular debacle that was Vista.)

Meanwhile, macOS lost half a percentage point in December, slumping to 11.1%.

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.

Windows 10 user shareIDG/Gregg Keizer

During 2019, the various versions of Windows took different paths towards damnation or eternal dominance. At some point, the sole survivor will be Windows 10. (Data: Net Applications.)

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