It's been around 30 months since Windows Vista hit the General Availability milestone, and in that time the OS has only managed to claw some 18% of the OS market share. Compare that weak market share to the aging Windows XP, which even today commands an impressive 73% market share. With Windows 7 now only a few weeks away from the General Availability milestone, it's interesting to wonder what effect 7 will have on XP and Vista market share.
According to data collected by NetApplications, Windows 7 had already grabbed a 0.9% market share by the end of July. That's pretty impressive considering that the OS didn't hit the RTM milestone until the 22nd of July. To put things into perspective, the beta and RC code for Windows 7 already commands three times the market share that the iPhone does. It's also rapidly closing up on Mac OS X 10.4 (market share 1.03%), Linux (market share 1.05%) and Mac OS X 10.5 (market share 3.42%). People are interested in Windows 7, and there's little danger that the OS launch will fizzle as Vista did at launch .
What I'm going to be watching as soon as Windows 7 is released to an eagerly awaiting public is how the new OS affects earlier versions of Windows. Microsoft's hope is that 7 will be the OS that convinces those entrenched XP users (of which there are millions) that it's time to let go of the aging operating system and embrace the future. I fear that reality might be different. I wouldn't be surprised to see 7 aggressively cannibalize Vista's market share, bringing it down to under 10% in a matter of months, while leaving XP's market share in the high 60% region. After all, many of the folks who've stuck with XP have done so for a reason. Maybe they're not upgrading their hardware, or maybe they're worried about compatibility or performance issues. Whatever the reason, they've made the choice, and making a switch from XP to 7 is only marginally easier than switching from XP to Vista. Add to this the fact that the only upgrade path from XP to 7 involves a clean install, which while being the sensible option, is more hassle than most will want to put themselves through.
Windows 7 does have some aces up its sleeve. The main one is that it will run happily on netbooks, which means that the era of Microsoft having to keep shipping XP comes to an end. Since netbooks is a growth area, that will help buoy 7's market share. Microsoft has also offered 7 at some very deep discounts over the past few weeks, hoping to get sales in before any negative reviews start hitting the web. No matter how good 7 is, a certain level of negative coverage is guaranteed, and Microsoft is anticipating it in advance. That's also a good move because it means that 7 will have a fantastic launch week that Redmond can brag about in press releases and in ads.
A factor that Windows 7 will have to contend against is the soggy economy. Despite a roaring economy at the time, Vista never managed more than to hobble along. Home users worried about performance, business users kept wondering why they should bother to migrate, and everyone worried about compatibility. It's clear to me now that despite having plenty of time in the oven, Vista was far from ready at the time it was released. With hindsight, I think that Microsoft would have done better to have sat on Vista for another six to eight months, made it into a better OS, and have avoided much of the negative press it attracted over the past two and a half years.
Microsoft has worked hard to distance itself from Vista (to the point of not even mentioning the OS by name in ads) but I fear that huge swathes of Windows users will take a long time to forget how Microsoft tried to push a broken OS onto their PCs.