Windows adoption rates: a history lesson

Windows adoption rates: a history lesson

Summary: In the Talkback section of my earlier post on XP versus Vista adoption, several commenters pointed to a PC World Techlog post that supposedly contradicts my conclusions. Those PC World numbers are interesting, but they don't add up. But don't believe me: just ask PC World, which published a very different set of numbers one year ago.


In the Talkback section of my earlier post on XP versus Vista adoption (Who's choosing XP over Vista?), several commenters pointed to a PC World Techlog post by editor Harry McCracken that they believe contradicts my conclusions. Here's what Harry had to say:

On January 30th, Microsoft released Windows Vista to consumers, who have been adopting it in ever-growing numbers. But those numbers have been creeping along rather than rocketing: As of now, Vista ... is used by 14 percent of visitors, while 71 percent use Windows XP...

How much of an accomplishment is it for a new version of Windows to get to 14 percent usage in 11 months? The logical benchmark is to compare it to the first eleven months of Windows XP, back in 2001 and 2002. In that period, that operating system went from nothing to 36 percent usage on

Well, that settles it, then. XP was a huge hit in its first year and Vista's a flop, right? Of course, that wasn't what PC World was saying one year ago, when it published this report from its parent company's IDG News Service back on November 27, 2006:

Up to 15 percent of PC users will move to Vista within the first year that the operating system is available, said David Mitchell, the software practice leader at Ovum Ltd. "That would make it the fastest-moving operating system ever," he said.

By comparison, between 12 to 14 percent of users switched to Windows XP during the first year of its release, Mitchell said. [emphasis added]

That prediction sounded about right then, and one year later that analyst seems to have nailed the actual number.

So, PC World, which is it? Did 36% of the market switch to XP in its first year of release or was it 12-14%? I have no doubt that the stats Harry posted were accurate as far as his website metrics go, but I think those statistics say a lot more about PC World's website and its unique readership than they do about the larger market.

Everyone knows a crystal ball works better when you're looking at history from five years ago. Those 2002 numbers in particular don't reflect the Windows marketplace as a whole. Does anyone really believe that 36% of the market at large adopted Windows XP in the first 11 months after its release? I certainly don't remember any contemporary reports of XP's success one year after its release (except, of course, in press releases from Redmond). Instead, I remember headlines like these:

Windows XP Slow to Take Hold - CRN, Oct 11, 2002

On the first anniversary of Windows XP's release, Microsoft has little to celebrate.

Less than 10 percent of Microsoft's installed base has upgraded to Windows XP since its release last October. That matches a 2001 Gartner prediction that nearly 75 percent of all corporate PCs would still be running Windows 95, 98 or NT Workstation by the end of 2002.

The adoption rate for the installed base of 250 million Windows users is "pretty small," said Rogers Weed, vice president of Windows client product management at Microsoft. "We're trying to kick-start some momentum."

In fact, all this coverage is thoroughly predictable. Microsoft tries to build up hype in the pre-launch phase, and then customers adopt products the way they always have, as part of the PC replacement cycle. It was true in 2002 with XP, it was true in 2007 with Vista, and it will be true several years in the future, when the next Windows release finally rolls around.

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • The past is a fairly reliable prediction of the future.

    Hi Ed,

    Yes, I agree. All of this is both expected and par for the course.

    The naysayers aside, the majority of *home* users only upgrade their operating system as part of a new purchase and this drives adoption up slowly. When corporations adopt, it is often wholesale under SA or VLA and is, therefore, somewhat invisible if looking only at sales numbers.

    Ultimately the hype (both by the pro and the anti Microsoft crowds) does little to affect overall adoption. People buy systems on a predictable schedule, and it really hasn't changed all that much in the last decade or so. They use whatever OS comes on their new system, be it XP or Vista or OS-X, until it -- too -- is ultimately replaced with their next new computer.

    Playing with the various numbers is an interesting mathematical mental exercise, but proves little. Vista adoption rates will probably mirror those of it's predecessors... since as far as consumers are concerned, the more things change the more they stay the same.

    My predictions for 2008? Most home users will continue to choose between OS-X and Windows, and generally Windows will continue to be the most popular due to familiarity, software selection, and inertia. Vista will be sold on new machines and will be slowly adopted at the corporate level *after* the first service pack and once new drives are released to resolve the current issues. Linux will continue to dominate in the security conscious data centers, and will gain slow traction on the desktop in small/home office environments. BSD will continue to be better than them all, but will be lost in the noisy hype of the Mac/Windows/Linux fanboys.

    Just my $0.02 USD ... your mileage may vary.

    Have a happy and healthy New Year!

  • Slower adoption is inevitable

    As OS's mature and continually become more robust, adoption of something newer will slow down more and more. As everyone has been saying, where is Vista's killer app? XP is reliable enough for the vast majority of users. BSOD's are basically a thing of the past. Yes, it is a minor annoyance that some older third-party non-XP products (older versions of WordPerfect, Ontrack's PowerDesk Pro, for example) will occasionally fail to launch and a reboot is necessary (PD Pro), but even that is not common.
    • One thing I really like about Vista is...

      ...low priority I/O. Sluggish response of the system due to high I/O activity appears to be a thing of the past.
      • re: Another thing I really like about Vista is...

        ...slow file xfer speed. And slow network throughput when playing music. I just love it to much...
        • Do you have a point?

          Were you under the mistaken impression that Vista (or any OS for that matter) was 100% troublefree?
          • The OS i use IS (nt)

          • Message has been deleted.

        • And don't forget the slow startup and shutdown times

        • Fixed quite a while ago

          This problem did not effect everyone and was fixed about 6 months ago. The low priority I/O problem in XP was a major architectural issue which Vista overcomes.
          • Not quite

            My vista pc will not shut down and this problem seems to be common on the web. No solution from MS.
          • that's cause

            Most have been caused by: bios, hardware, or driver issues on PC's upgraded from XP.

            Some have reported applications causing shutdown to fail.

            All of these are up to the OEM to fix.
          • Actually, tehre are several solutions from MS

            A number of reliability and compatibility updates have been released that address some power-management bugs in Vista. The latest is this one:


            In addition, as others have noted, there are BIOS, video driver, and some other issues. But do check for Windows updates.
            Ed Bott
    • OK, quick question...

      What was XP's killer app?
      Ed Bott
      • re: XP killer app was the name.... broke that cycle of naming an OS a date. XP was refreshing having a produce with a name that you can keep for years with out being reminded of old it actually is...
        • Really?

          That's what you think? I think what made XP a success was it crashed less and ran great, IF you had the hardware....which for most required a computer upgrade.

          I knew very few people who upgraded before it was a year old. Gamers complained that it was slower than win95 and businesses were just starting to migrate to 2000 (I know I had an NT box).

          People claiming Vista has done poorly just don't remember the recent past.
      • I can answer this one...

        What XP was to the Windows world is what the DVD to the VCR world.

        That same logic is what is being applied to Vista and the HD-DVD/Blu-ray.. The.. "It's nice but.. is it really worth the upgrade for such little benefit when I compare it to the predecessor?"

        I don't believe there was any "killer app" to be quite honest, I just think it was what a bunch of differences were in different products that made people change. Are those "differences" as big to users when you compare XP working "just fine" to Vista's "works better"?
      • Wasn't an app but what it replaced

        It wasn't so much of an app thing but the fact that everyone hated Windows ME and was dying for something more reliable to replace it with.<br><br>Vista = ME II
        • XP replaced ME?????

          Not on any machine I had anything to do with. There was so little ME on the market that XP largely replaced Win98SE, which most people stuck with after hearing the ME horror stories.
          • Yes it replaced ME....

            Once ME hit the streets of course Microsoft made it impossible for you to buy a 98se machine so either the average consumer bought a ME machine or held off until ME was replaced. Luckily this happened quickly.<br><br> I agree though if you had 98 and upgraded to ME we just laughed at you.....
  • For what it's worth...

    ...I exited a position held with a public institution in 2006 of some 5000+ employees. At that point a plan to migrate to Windows XP had only just begun. It was a Windows 2000 Professional shop.

    So many 'customers' might not as a rule be in a big hurry to move without certification which with legacy systems might take years to carefully plan and execute.

    In that respect, I don't see a demand to move away from Windows XP in significant numbers happening for, perhaps, another year, discounting statistics for PC World and yours.

    Pragmatists will most likely consider a transition to XP SP3 first before contemplating Vista.

    Thanks Ed.
    D T Schmitz