Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

Summary: Is Apple really making a dent in Microsoft's long-standing Windows monopoly? Are mobile devices taking over tasks that used to be done by PCs? To answer these questions, I went off in search of hard numbers and found four unmistakable trends.


Microsoft has been at the top of the heap for almost as long as people have used PCs. They've managed to sustain an overwhelming competitive advantage, even after a decade's worth of antitrust action and the astonishing transformation of Apple into a profit-making machine that has built one billion-dollar business after another while the entire rest of the tech industry is stuck in neutral. Indeed, the presence of Apple and Google as direct competitors suggests that maybe Microsoft is overdue to take a tumble.

There is never a shortage of Apple-versus-Microsoft yammering in the blogosphere, but I haven't seen much in the way of actual data. Is Apple really making a dent in Microsoft's long-standing Windows monopoly? Are mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad taking over tasks that used to be done by PCs? Sales figures tell part of the story, but in my opinion the best data comes from analyzing how devices are being used in the real world. I went off in search of hard numbers, and I found them at the same source I used earlier this year to measure Windows 7 adoption rates (see When will XP finally fade away?).

Net Market Share publishes snapshots of PC usage based on data from 160 million visits per month to its large collection of sites (the exact methodology is here). Its monthly reports on operating system versions contain a wealth of detailed information about even the most obscure OSes, and they've tracked the performance of mobile platforms consistently for the past three years. To compile the charts in this post, I went beyond the simple summary reports and dug deep into the details, recording and cross-tabulating data for desktop and mobile OSes from November 2007 until October 2010. I found four unmistakable trends.

Windows XP continues its steady decline. In early 2008, more than a year after Microsoft launched Windows Vista, Windows users had emphatically rejected that upgrade. Fewer than 10% of Windows users had switched, and nearly 5% of all Windows PCs in use were running Windows versions older than XP. The Windows 7 story is very, very different. One year after the release of Windows 7, it has made a significant dent in the Windows user base, and those diehards holding on to pre-XP versions have mostly surrendered. XP's share of actual usage has declined more than 20 percent in two years, and that trend is accelerating.

Data provided by > Net Market Share

There's no evidence that the marketplace is abandoning Windows to any significant degree. The overall share of Internet traffic from Windows PCs has dropped slightly in the past two-and-a-half years, from 95.4% to 91.1%. But that's true across the board for competing desktop OSes as well. Linux usage is down dramatically in 2010, to 0.85% from an all-time high of 1.08% in early 2009. Interestingly, OS X usage is also down, dropping by roughly a quarter of a percentage point since a year ago, from 5.26% to exactly 5.00%. In relative terms, that's almost exactly the same overall drop as the Windows platform has seen in the same period.

Apple is still gaining on Microsoft, thanks to iOS-based devices. There's no doubt that the Mac has been a big success for Apple over the past couple of years. While Microsoft was stumbling with Vista, Apple used a very aggressive advertising campaign that resulted in considerable growth of OS X usage, at least in relative terms. The Net Market Share stats confirm that OS X's share of Internet usage rose from 3.45% in early 2008 to more than 5% last year.  As I noted earlier, the Mac's momentum has stalled (which might explain Apple's sudden "Back to the Mac" event last week). But Apple's overall share of the Internet  continues to go up steadily, thanks to mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. Added together, Apple's one-two punch of OS X and iOS has been a clear winner. It will be interesting to look at these figures again in a year.

Data provided by > Net Market Share

The mobile Internet is growing at an astonishing rate. This was the most fascinating set of numbers to me, and they're also the ones that should have Microsoft most concerned. Back in 2007, Internet traffic from mobile devices was nearly nonexistent; today, mobile operating systems account for nearly 3% of all Internet traffic. The percentage of Internet usage on mobile devices has been doubling every eight months or so. If you extrapolate that trend, it's easy to imagine a world in which mobile devices consume 20% or more of total Internet usage within the next two or three years.

Data provided by > Net Market Share

So where is all that traffic coming from? Not surprisingly, Apple's iOS-based devices are the leader in the mobile category, as measured by usage, accounting for 42% of the total traffic from mobile sources. The very close runner-up, at 37%, is a big surprise: Java Platform, Micro Edition (Java ME), presumably running mostly on Nokia feature phones [and on BlackBerry devices as well, as several commenters point out in the Talkback section]. Symbian is a distant third at 11%, with Android in fourth at 8%.

We are indeed moving rapidly into a world where mobile devices are taking over many tasks that were previously handled by PCs. The big question is whether (and if so, when) that growth curve levels off. This is a market that is only beginning to explode, which means things can change very quickly. I'll be looking closely at these monthly numbers over the next year, especially with Microsoft jumping into this space so aggressively with Windows Phone 7.

Topics: Microsoft, Apple, Browser, Hardware, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Wi-Fi, Windows

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  • Both will fall in the coming DepreFlation

    Apple will fall the hardest as their business model relies on consumers overspending on high-margin items.<br><br>It'll be a double-whammy for these companies as not only consumers have less money for new gadgets and computers after ever increasing food/gasoline/electricity price exhausts their money but also their own cash-pile will be trashed by the mass inflation D.C. is unleashing. If they don't hedge against it now, they'll lose big time in the coming years.
    • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie


      Explain/confirm, your first sentence please. IMHO Apples sells a device, at low margin, that utilizes applications, software, subscriptions, and other peoples product (music, video, ect...), then takes a cut from "providing the device and store".
      The rest of your post is pure drivel...
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

        @jedamme <br>Actually Apple sells things at a very HIGH margin, this explains their very igh revenue selling fewer devices. The apps are many but many useless ones and rarely used again. Apple takes a chunk out of developers by closing the platform and making them pay a fee for the "priviledge" of being able to make something for the iphone/ipad.<br>So what's drivel to you, is common sense to most others.<br>Its whats called propaganda, which can only fool some people for so long. There will always be some people you can fool, all the time.<br><br>PS - this article tries to skew resuts. <br>per marketshare:<br>For OSes being used, OSX is stagnant if not falling for the last 6 months. <br>Market share, is only showing Apple as gaining by introducing a mobile market. To avoid this reality, is to be a true fanboy.
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie


        "priviledge?" is that a place where rich people go to make the big leap?

        and while, yes, apple does sell "things," they sell some products with high margins, some with lower (or even low) margins, like the iPad and the iMac. as for "fewer," they are the fourth or fifth largest pc maker in the US, not too shabby for a gizmo company.

        as for "taking a chunk" out of developers who develop for iPad and iPhone: yes, so? developers are free to build for any platform they like; but any platform that has an app-store--and this includes google--takes a cut for hosting the app, making it searchable and easily distributed, and so on. it's open to question whether the cost of managing one's own distribution would be more or less.

        and besides, they're pretty much an evil empire and have no compunction against gouging; and why should they? it's the american way, and they're damned good at it. in fact, they're *damned good americans*.

        vote republican!
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

        @jedamme iPods cost significantly more than comparable competitors, which is part of the reason I've never bought one.
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

        @JABBER_WOLF, not disagreeing with you on the OS X falling, in fact if you look at the graph, it shows OS X falling off even in Apples share, so I am not sure how the author tried to skew anything there....
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

        @jedamme What low margin? Their margins are HUGE. Usually between 25-40%. And THEN they take another 30% from the apps. So I'm not sure what your saying.
    • Wait a minute, Linux reached 1% in 2009

      Damn, if I'd known I would have baked a cake. Never mind, I'm sure it'll get to 1% again. Right....
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

        @tonymcs@... I used to write like this, then I actually *tried* Linux. It's clear you haven't. In fact, it's clear that the only reason you post here is to shill for Microsoft. Whence your loyalty? Are you an employee? Or just a sycophant?
      • Straight out of the left field


        I could not find the words "Linux" or "open source" or what have you in his post. Obsessive by any chance?
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

        @ChrisFox8 You seem to be upset that tonymcs doesn't like Linux... but how can you tell from his post that he didn't try it? Perhaps he did and just did not like it. I tried Ubuntu Linux a few years ago as an alternate OS on an old laptop (Well within specs to run Ubuntu BTW) and I did not like it at all - I liked the so-called tech support aka the Linux forums even less. So yeah there ARE people who tried it and hated it.

        @economister - tonymcs mentioned Linux reaching 1% in his subject header.
      • @ Athynz . . .

        Economister was saying that the <u>article</u> didn't mention Linux (Which it didn't), so why was tonymcs@... talking about it?

        Sounds obsessive to me . . . .
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

        @Economister@ and @JLHenry@: This sentence appears in the article: "Linux usage is down dramatically in 2010, to 0.85% from an all-time high of 1.08% in early 2009. "
      • Linux Has Been (and Still Is) Above 1% for a Couple of Years

        If you go by a site with more reliable numbers like those from Wikimedia, you can see that desktop Linux usage has been above 1% for at least a couple of years (by "desktop Linux" I mean Linux used to browse the Internet excluding the usually handheld Android powered devices). Also, you will see that it has not gone down since 2009, as Ed's reference indicates. In fact, for both Linux and Mac, desktop market percentage has gone up since last year, while Windows overall percentage has gone down.

        Of course, that's understandable for Windows since it had so much of the desktop market that its percentage of the market was bound to go down, especially with the advent of more Internet enabled platforms, i.e., the growth of smartphones and tablets.

        Of course Macs and Linux boxes faced the same problem of facing a market that is shifting toward mobile. In fact, the same advent of mobile market share that slightly exaggerates Windows decline during the past year because of its large market share also, because of their relatively small market share, plays down the growth of Macs and Linux. That is especially so for Linux because the smaller the existing market share is, the more increases in it are overshadowed by additions to the overall market. Unfortunately, we can't really see how much effect this has since only the percentages from Wikimedia are useful in tracking operating system market changes because the increase in the use of Wikimedia itself skews the raw numbers.
    • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

      @LBiege "Apple will fall the hardest as their business model relies on consumers overspending on high-margin items."

      First, you and Ed Bott both assume that none of the companies will change their business model as conditions change and that is hardly likely.

      Second, Apple products are not overpriced. As one simple example, consider the iPad which was argued as being too expensive. iPad 64Gig WiFi/3G is AUD$1,050 whereas a Samsung Tab 16G is AUD$1,000. As well, I've recently had a quick look at several 22" and 24" all-in-one computers from various manufacturers. Each that I've seen has been at least 15% more expensive than an Apple iMac 27" i3 but with considerably lower specifications (smaller screen size, lesser CPU and so forth). LBeige, you can keep spruiking that Apple is expensive, but just because you say it does not make it true. Do some research an you'll be surprised . . . I was!
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie


        Yet another example: The new Apple cinema HD 27 inch display. Even though the LG glass used inside the Apple version is the same as that used in the Dell, the Apple ups the ante with an LED backlight AND undercuts the Dell's MSRP by $100.00 at $999.
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

        Don't be silly. Go to the Dell store and then the Apple store and match specs. E.g. The Macbook vs the Inspiron 15 similarly equipped. Apple: $999 vs Dell $560. There's a reason Apple makes a better profit than Dell - they make higher margins.
      • Apple also makes better product than Dell.


        That is why they can charge a bit more and get higher margins. Many people are willing to pay for substantially better industrial design.

        And Apple still undercuts Dell with a better 27" monitor by $100. Not silly. True.
      • features

        and how much are these macbook features worth that you failed to compare?
        - no antivirus software necessary
        - iLife preinstalled
        - multi touch trackpad
        - 10 hour battery on one charge
        - 5 years battery life
        - high resale value
        - led isp display
        - unibody construction enclosure (instead of glued together plastic)
        - magsafe adapter

        just asking.
        banned from zdnet
      • RE: Microsoft vs. Apple: Who's winning? The numbers don't lie

        ... don't forget, they're white!! That's the most important feature of all!!

        no antivirus software necessary? I can show you about 200 systems at a nearby school that would beg to differ. I can't think of any sysadmin worth his salt that would agree with you on that one.

        iLife is a feature? Locking you into a proprietary set of software that's compatible with ... nothing... is a feature? C'mon!

        multi-touch trackpad... yup, I'll give you that one. Not that $30 would fix that with many other vendors, including Lenovo. Or Logitech. Or even MS (yup, they make 'em too!).

        10 hour battery life ... yes, if you don't use a number of *little* things. Like a bright screen. Or Wifi. Or bluetooth. Then it'll last you all day. Just like every other PC out there. However, you should look at the next couple of lines: 5 Year battery life. Can you change the battery then? This from a company that shipped systems (ipod battery fiasco) that couldn't hold a charge after 2 months...we'll see. I think it's only fair to be a little skeptical about that one. It's not like Apple is a battery company - they buy the stuff on the market just like everyone else - from 3rd party battery manufacturers.

        High resale value - try as I might, I don't see that as a feature. It might be a current market parameter, driven by the current market. This can change at any time. Look at the market for 1st gen Ipods. You can't give that junk away!

        LED display - again, look hi and low, and you will find pretty much every vendor offering this as an option. Not much differentiation there.

        Unibody construction - yup, they have that. They also charge almost twice as much for repairs as a direct consequence. When I took the apple tech course, they warned us about the screens on iMacs. Apple expects a full 30% to crack when you open up that case. Can't be too different with the new unibody macairs. But it's a feature. You win.

        magsafe adapter. You win again. Just what everyone wants - a magnetic power plug. I'll pay twice as much just for that.

        But don't forget. They're white! And .... shiny!