Making sense of the decline of Windows 8 market share

According to data from Net Market Share, Windows XP actually gained market share last month, and Windows 8 as a whole lost some users.

Things don't seem to be going well for Microsoft -- at least not in the Windows operating system department. According to the latest data from Net Market Share, Windows 8 as a whole (merging Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 together) declined slightly, while Windows XP -- an OS that officially expired almost three months ago -- gained market share. What's going on here?

This isn't a cause and effect or one-to-one relationship where Windows 8 users are abandoning the OS and reverting to Windows XP. I'm sure that's the case for some users, but the reality is that there are a few factors to consider.

First and foremost, Net Market Share is measuring OS market share based on the operating systems used to visit the various websites and internet resources it monitors. It's not based on sales, and Net Market Share has no way to determine how many people installed Windows XP or replaced Windows 8 with some other operating system in a given month.

All Net Market Share is reporting is, for the past month, an increase in Windows XP systems visiting the sites it monitors and a decline in Windows 8 systems. To put it another way, it's possible that there are far fewer PCs with Windows XP this month than last, and far more PCs with Windows 8 / 8.1 this month than last, but the numbers of each browsing the internet are not an accurate representation. That said, I respect the Net Market Share data, and I frequently use Net Market Share as a source for this sort of information, so it seems reasonable to accept the data at face value.

Taking a closer look at the data, the increase in Windows XP is only four hundredths of a percentage point -- from 25.27% in May to 25.31% in June. In other words, the "gain" makes for a nice, sensational headline, but it amounts essentially to a rounding error. It would be fair to say that Windows XP was stagnant, which in and of itself says something because an expired OS shouldn't just be declining -- it should be in free fall mode.

Now, let's look at the Windows 8 side of the equation. Windows 8.1 actually had a gain in market share. It didn't exactly skyrocket, but the rise in Windows 8.1 is six and a half times that of Windows XP.

Windows 8 dropped. That makes sense, because the rise in Windows 8.1 should be largely a reflection of Windows 8 systems upgrading. However, Windows 8 dropped 0.36 percentage points -- a tenth of a percent more than the rise in Windows 8.1. When you combine the two, the net result is that Windows 8 / 8.1 as a whole declined in market share by 0.1 percentage points.

It's also worth pointing out that Windows 7 actually had the largest gain of the bunch -- rising nearly half a percentage point between May and June to end the month with 50.55% of the desktop OS market. Meanwhile, Mac OS X 10.9 had the most dramatic decline -- falling 0.2 percentage points from 4.15% to 3.95% of the market.

Looking at Windows as a whole vs. Mac OS X as a whole, things look pretty good from Microsoft's perspective. Windows dominates the landscape with more than 90% of the desktop OS market share, and it enjoyed a small increase from last month. Mac OS X, on the other hand, fell more than Windows gained -- apparently losing some market share to Linux as well.

I think it's fair to say that Windows 8 / 8.1 is not winning over the hearts of PC users like Microsoft wishes it would, and that Windows XP -- like Internet Explorer 6 -- refuses to die. Saying that Windows XP gained, and Windows 8 / 8.1 lost market share is technically true, and it makes for alluring headlines, but it over-dramatizes the reality.

I've been using Windows since Windows 3.0, and I've been using Windows 8 since before the public beta was even available. There is a lot I like about Windows 8 / 8.1, and very little -- if anything -- that I dislike enough to whine about. It's just Windows.

Despite the hype and rhetoric online, there's certainly nothing about Windows 8 / 8.1 that makes it difficult -- never mind impossible -- to use with a traditional monitor, mouse, and keyboard. Regardless of the much-despised Windows 8 Start Screen and the Modern / Metro UI, there's nothing preventing people from using Windows 8 exactly as they've used Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, or any other version of Windows.

I hope Windows XP will be extinct sooner rather than later, but I doubt things will change significantly for Windows 8 / 8.1. That isn't a direct reflection of Windows 8, though. With speculation already ramping up that Windows 9 -- codenamed "Threshold" -- could be available in early 2015, I think Windows 8 has had enough negative press (whether warranted or not) that most of the potential Windows customers are committed to sitting out until the next version.

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