Who's choosing XP over Vista?

Who's choosing XP over Vista?

Summary: One of the most accepted bits of conventional wisdom among pundits as 2007 draws to a close is that the marketplace has rejected Windows Vista in favor of Windows XP. But is that conclusion supported by hard data? I found a large database of information from one of the world's biggest PC makers that provides a glimpse into how the market is really choosing between XP and Vista


One of the most accepted bits of conventional wisdom among pundits as 2007 draws to a close is that the marketplace has rejected Windows Vista in favor of Windows XP. The biggest piece of evidence is Dell's decision in April 2007, based on a vocal response via its Dell IdeaStorm page, to continue offering Windows XP as an option on some consumer systems. It picked up steam with Microsoft's announcement in September that it was going to allow its large OEM partners to preinstall Windows XP until June 30, 2008, a five-month extension over the original January 30 cutoff date. (A CNET News report from last April indicates that HP and Lenovo have adopted similar strategies, offering XP as an option on business-class machines but for consumer products.)

Both of those moves got a lot of press, but proof about how either decision has actually played out in the marketplace is, unfortunately, pretty thin. Microsoft doesn't break out its mix of Windows shipments with this level of detail. OEM computer makers are tight-lipped as well. And if any third-party market research firms have done any studies on this subject, they have yet to publish the results.

But I stumbled on an unexpected source of data that has helped me get a much better picture on what the actual numbers might be like. As it turns out, Dell has published a large database of information about its current inventory for anyone to see, and I was able to sift through it to form some surprising conclusions about the current relationship between XP and Vista in the PC marketplace. The short version: Consumers have embraced Vista overwhelmingly, whereas small business is much more reluctant, preferring XP by a better than 2-to-1 margin.

My data source is Dell's Outlet Center, where I have bought five desktop PCs in 2007. Dell maintains separate outlets for its Home and Home Office and Business and Education divisions. Products in the outlet are all current models, divided into three categories: refurbished products, which have been returned by a customer after purchase (typically within 15-30 days); products previously ordered new but not booted by a customer; and "scratch and dent" products, which have minor cosmetic flaws.

The secret of successful shopping at the Dell Outlet, I've learned, is to monitor the inventory carefully. In popular categories, such as high-end XPS desktops, new products arrive and are snagged within hours or even minutes if the deal is especially good.

The selection is especially wide and diverse, covering thousands of notebooks and desktops in all price ranges and configurations. If one assumes that the likelihood of a product being returned is more or less equal across the board, that makes the outlet's inventory an excellent proxy for Dell's larger business.

And best of all, there's a fully searchable database front end for the whole thing, which makes it easy to filter the entire inventory by model, processor, memory, video card, or - aha! - installed operating system. In about an hour, I was able to produce some detailed crosstabs and turn them into very informative graphs. Here are the results:

For the time period that I looked at, I examined the full, unfiltered inventory for both outlets. The small business segment included 1509 systems, consisting of low-end Vostro notebooks and desktops and high-end Latitude notebooks and Optiplex desktops. In most of these categories, Dell offers buyers a choice between XP and Vista via its online interface, and 70% of these small business buyers have opted for XP, with only 30% choosing Vista (interestingly, 2% chose the option to have XP Professional installed with a license to upgrade to Vista Business or Ultimate later).

XP versus Vista, small business division

In the consumer category, Dell offers low-end Inspiron desktops and notebooks and higher-end Dimension and XPS desktops and notebooks. Windows XP is available as an online option on a relatively small selection of models. As a result, only 7% of the inventory in the Home and Home Office Outlet is available with Windows XP preinstalled. A full 93% of the systems included Windows Vista.

XP versus Vista, consumer division

One apparent reason for the higher proportion of Vista machines in the consumer segment is the lack of online configuration options. To make the comparison with the business category more accurate, I narrowed the field to only those machines that explicitly offer XP and Vista as options in the online configurator. In the notebook category, this includes the Inspiron 1520, the XPS M1710, and the XPS M1730. In desktops, this includes the Inspiron 530 and 530s and XPS 210.

[Update 1-Jan-2008: Some commenters seem to have misunderstood this detail, so let me be more explicit about what the next section includes. On Dell's Home website, you start by choosing desktops or notebooks. On the landing page for either one, there is a big graphic on the right side of the page that reads "Still looking for Windows XP?" Click that link and you go to this page (if you started out looking for desktops) or this page (for notebooks). Both pages display a huge graphic banner at the top with this label: "THE CHOICE IS YOURS. Windows Vista or Windows XP. You decide." The following section restricts the results from the Outlet inventory to only machines originally offered via these two links.]

When I restricted the sample to only consumer machines where potential buyers were offered the explicit option to choose between XP and Vista, the proportion opting for XP increased by 5%. Out of a total of 388 desktop and notebook PCs, 49, or 12%, were configured with either XP Home or Pro, compared with 88% that selected Vista. That means that buyers, given the clear choice, are opting for Vista over XP by a ratio of more than 7 to 1.

Two other facts stood out when I looked more closely at the data.

  • One is that a staggering 27% of small business customers are opting for either Windows XP Home or Vista Home Basic, even though both are terrible OS choices for any networked business. The implication is that the $100+ difference between the Home and Pro/Business versions is significant for price-conscious business buyers. By contrast, only 13% of buyers in the consumer category are choosing the XP Home/Vista Home Basic option.
  • Finally, Vista Home Premium has been a huge hit for Microsoft. More than 72% of all consumer PCs, desktop and notebook, sold in the Dell Outlet system have Vista Home Premium installed. For all the hand-wringing over Microsoft's decision to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the consumer channel by emphasizing this particular SKU. Looks like that strategy was successful. As for Vista Ultimate, it hasn't been a runaway winner. In the consumer sample I looked at, it represented just under 5% of sales, and in the small business side it totaled just over 1% of sales.

The bottom line? If these samples represent Dell's overall business, which in turn serves as a proxy for the PC market as a whole, Microsoft is on target in its mission to convert the consumer market to Vista through new PC sales. Business buyers, however, remain skeptical. I'll look at these numbers again in early 2008, after SP1 has been officially released and integrated into Dell's product lines, to see whether it makes a substantial difference in the marketplace.

Topics: Dell, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows, SMBs

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  • I searched for an XP machine

    I specifically sought out an XP machine when purchasing just last month. Actually, the machine I found is a Systemax that comes with a Vista Business license, but they'd utilized the XP "downgrade" option (hah, more like an upgrade), so it came with an XP image on it. The thought of installing Vista isn't even on my radar screen.
    • Dell and XP

      The time came to buy Dad a new PC. Even though it seems as though the Dell site is divided into "Business" and "Consumer", nevertheless, by choosing the "small business" option, I was able to buy a Dell PC for my Dad, loaded with XP. Operation has been faultless, needless to say.

      As for a bargain Toshiba Satellite ($CDN499) loaded with Vista Home Premium - all I can say is that I appreciate being paid to use Vista.
      • So much confusion so simple an answer

        People purchase a new machine (Hoping) that it will be a wise choice / decision their older machine had XP installed. So they buy Dell (Why a dell I will never know) and it has the LATEST version of software (OS (Vista)) installed. They get it home only to find out after a short time the DONT like Vista. So they have accepted the option of Vista at first and Dell wont take it back will they? So their only other option is to go and buy a copy of XP. So why arent these numbers considered as well.

        Yes up front the CONSUMER, who is habitual (trying to keep up with the times and technology), chooses the VISTA option only to find out that it was not the best option and whish the heck they chose the XP option. Now Dell arent going to say thats ok bring it back and we will put XP on it are they???

        This "survey" should take this into consideration before it sprouts VISTA is the most chosen.
        • Agreed

          I agree with you on this. I know that the manufacturer of focus was Dell but my friend purchased a new PC directly from HP to replace her previous system which had XP. Well, the system she was interested in from HP only had the option of Vista which she had no problem with as she chose Vista Home. However a couple days after receiving her PC she called me and the first thing she said to me was that she wanted to downgrade back to XP (due to instability issues). I'd imagine that should she choose to do so, she would need to do it on her own dollar.
        • You can't chose if you don't have a choice.

          Why do people keep thinking that they CHOSE Vista or even Windows of any flavor? They buy a PC or a MAC, and they get what is available, or more likely what they have to take with the machine.

          The pie chart shows what percentage of PCs were delivered with Vista, NOT chosen. They need to take the second pie chart in the article and say "Vista vs XP delivered" (or sold) and quitfooling them selves and trying to convice the people out there that we CHOSE it.

          I am looking into upgrading my workstation and the hardware mix I want comes bundled with Vista. All my stuff runs under XP and I asked if I can get it with XP and they say "that all you can get any more" so I am screwed if I want to maintain my preferred version of windows.

          Just like moving from 98 to Xp, I HAD to. No choice. So, take the "CHOSE" off the chart and say SOLD, or DELIVERED, as 90% of the buyers didn't CHOSE it, they are stuck with it.

          You can't chose if you don't have a choice.
          • Right On Brother

            You hit right on the nail head-there is NO CHOSENING you take what is on the machine doesn't matter what you think of OS Mirosoft and the Manufactor have already made the choice for you!!!!So why make it sound like you are chosing??
          • Actually, you do have a choice...

            and that choice is Linux. If you're fed up with M$, can't afford a Mac, and are willing to learn Linux (which is not that tough at all), then you really do have a choice.
          • Speaking of having no choice.

            The Week prior to the Vista release, we went to purchase an XP machine for my son. Low and behold no one had an XP machine on the shelf, as a matter of fact the shelves were bare. When questioned why? We were told they could not sell an XP machine or be fined (a substantial fine) by Microsoft. So we had to wait a week to get a PC, but not the one we wanted, because it was on back-order. Then, to top it all off, the Vista HP PC didn't work with the program used by his college class, and we ended up buying a "Mac" also. Now my son's happy, and I'm broke.
            Thank you Microsoft.
        • Accepted an OPTION! HA hA ha

          They accepted the OS that came with the machine of their choice.
          There was NO OPTION.

          The Option was to NOT select that hardware, and CHOOSE a machine of lesser applibility to their needs if the didn't want Vista.
        • I totally agree

          While the numbers are interesting, the conclusion of this article is bogus. It doesn't represent choice. I bought a laptop for my son last fall at BestBuy. We couldn't mix and match hardware and opsys. We were given fixed packages for a fixed price. We considered the trade off in CPU speed, memory and I/O devices with cost and then took what we were given for the opsys. I asked, but I don't remember even one XP machine offered. Most "consumers" that I know don't know enough to make an intelligent choice about XP verses Vista. I'm going to stay with XP just because it does everything I need, I'm familiar with it and don't want the headaches of days of downtime shifting all my programs and their custom configurations over to a new operating system that I hear is slower anyway.
        • Dell

          Why some have low opinions of Dell, I'll never know. I'm a computer tech, been wrking on all types of computers for 15 years. There is nothing at all wrong with Dell as a computer system. I also own a Dell I have turned into a gaming computer. Flawless. Bascially it comes down to a matter of opinion for many, you either like them, or you don't. I speak from my experience with them personally, and as dealing with them as a warranty provider.
          • Me Dell to

            I have a Dell loaded with Vista. Lots of lockups and freezes. It had I gig of Ram. I loaded another gig. Now it is much better. So I would have to say Vista is Ok Now..Still some programs I can't run..
    • Simple Observations

      I'm not as familiar with Vista as I'd like. That being said. I am currently working in the IT field at a local college and also am enrolled in course studies for my degree in Computer Sciences.
      I know of approx. 12 students that have purchased new machines recently.(both desktop & laptops) ALL were pre-loaded with Vista by default, and unless the person asked, XP was not even given as an option . However ,of the ones that did ask , Xp was offered as a special option at a HIGHER prices AND there was a waiting period as it had to be shipped ....approx. deliveries were quoted at anywhere from 2-6 weeks for a factory reload.
      I only just recently took the "NEW A+" Exams. (for those that don't know , July 1,2007 A+ exam materials and content changed) I took and passed the Essentials and Technician Exams and am not allowed to discuss the content of these.
      But I know what was taught in class and what was on "my" tests.

      O.K., Disregard my opinion forever if you like. I will give a brief bit of it at the end if you would like to know my thoughts.

      #1) The college course materials and the people who give the A+ exams and certifications (since I don't know if i can legally use the "names" of these 2 companies)are not including Vista, yet. And throw out XP questions like you're preping for the MCP XP exam.(I am not telling what exactly the questions were or what areas they focused on.) This alone says volumes to me of how the Industry Leaders perceive Vista in "MY" near future.


      #2) Retail stores can only sell what is being sent from the factories and prosper from having the "Latest Thing" in stock.
      Since XP is no longer a basic load offered to consumers purchasing "new machines"(from proprietary makers, sold as a bundled "deals" from any of the top manufacturers' current production catalogs that local retailers can order for chain store mass distribution and sales), naturally Vista will look more popular if you analyze sales figures as a basis, regardless of the exact "type" of consumer making the purchase. Obviously because....DUH! XP is only offered on machines already "in stock" and "in the store" or if web-based, "in warehouse" and has been sitting there for a long time, unless consumers take their business to a custom shop that will "build to order". (as it is no longer being loaded in mass quantities on "new" machines on production lines this very minute, nor will it ever be again).

      It has become clear to me that Industry Leaders don't believe that new IT professionals need Vista knowledge coming fresh out of college.
      Therefore, it's not really a matter of which is better "proven by sales figures", but rather which is better as "proven by sales figures of what is offered in the current market".

      Now, my opinion might not be of high regard to an IT Pro as far as which is better,but,
      For those that might be curious ...... at this present moment , I would not own a machine run by Vista "IF I had to pay for it with my own money" and if i were to be given 1 (unless it had a DX10 compatible, tested and passed, video card and at least 2G of Ram) I would reformat the HDD and load XP Pro SP2 on it.
      I do not recommend it to people who ask me before they go to purchase a new machine.
      Based only on what I have personally been shown and experiences I've been told about from friends that currently work in IT, and of course the countless articles,reviews and technical forums I have read over the past months since Vistas' release.
      It is simply too new and has too many driver and hardware compatibility issues (as well as DX10)and bugs too be worked out for the "average" individual or "small business" to waste their time and hard earned money on. With 1 exception......for those with a Tablet PC , I have heard that Vista Tablet Edition is a step up from XP Tablet Ed. .... as long as your system has 2G+ of Ram, I haven't researched this yet tho.
      My opinion is a little one sided on student incomes and their ability to afford purchasing prices on "new machines" or a "machine worth loading Vista onto", so I'll not go there.

      I am a realist and believe that eventually either Vista will be what it should be (an improved 64 bit replacement of XP, XP Pro, etc.). Or that it will be Crowned "Millenium 2008" and shortly thereafter be replaced with the "NEW XP"(whatever it will be called).
      I mean really , the near future holds in store- 40 hour laptop batteries and 80-core processors!!!!! I truly hope that the software will advance right along with these.

      Sorry this was so long , I had to vent, Thank You for your time. Feel free to add, correct, agree or disagree to any of this. I try to learn from "others" mistakes before I make my own, and then if I make them, learn from those also......Feedback of ALL kinds are more then appreciated.
      • Kudos to you!

        I see success in your future.

        You possess a rare quality. Youth coupled
        with common sense.

        Congratulations! And good luck!
        Ole Man
  • Intresting

    I have a question though. Does this take into account downgrades as well ? Just because they ordered Vista doesnt mean they liked it.

    • yeah

      So many people are buying XP disks to install after they bought, tried, and disliked the Dells with Vista. The numbers here aren't showing the real story.
      • More numbers pulled out of thin air?

        So many? Right.

        I guess as long as people like you just make up the numbers they want, Vista will continue to be a 'failure', regardless of how many are actually in use...
        • beCAUSE

          vista takes timeto learn your moves (SUPERFETCH) ive used vista since release and have no complaints
      • You need to re-read the article

        It is clearly stated that consumers are given a clear choice between XP & Vista. So the numbers are correct.

        The numbers show that Dell is selling more Vista machines in the consumer market then they sell XP machines.

        What people do with thier machines afterwords do not change the facts.

        Now I would be interested in seeing how many Vista vs XP machines are sold through other on-line retailers like HP, Gateway, and whoever else is out there.
        • Yes, but....

          They may have bought the Vista machine for another reason...such as a particular hardware feature, since the OS isn't configurable on consumer models. And if they then go buy XP at a local retailer...Dell's numbers aren't gonna reflect actual usage percentage even on Dell machines.