Why Windows 8's usage share is so low, and why it's really not that bad

Why Windows 8's usage share is so low, and why it's really not that bad

Summary: Why Windows 8's usage share is at 12 percent, what that means, and why it doesn't really matter in the long run.


It's been a little over a year and a half since Windows 8 hit general availability, but according to the number crunchers at Net Applications the operating system's usage share is at 12.5 percent, while its older brother Windows 7 dominates the PC landscape with a usage share of over 50 percent.

That 12 percent number doesn't sound good, does it? It's barely double-digits. And it sounds worse when you compare that to the 50 percent adoption that Apple claimed for Mavericks at the WWDC keynote last month. And that's made even worse by the fact that Mavericks has only been out for eight months.

That's bad, right?

Well, maybe, and maybe not. I'm here to tell you that there are two different things at play here. First there's Windows 8 itself, and then there's the issue of the statistics themselves.

First, Windows 8 itself.

Note: In this piece, when I refer to Window 8, I mean Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.

I make no bones about the fact that I'm no fan of Windows 8. It's the operating system that after more than two decades of being a dedicated Windows power user that finally made me make the switch to OS X. Microsoft took Windows in a direction that wasn't compatible with what I wanted, and while Windows 8.1 undid some of the damage, and brought some sanity back to the insane interface, by then I'd recognized that OS X better suited my needs and I was gone.

And I'm not alone in thinking that Windows 8, with its heavy emphasis on putting touch first, took Windows in a direction that didn't bring enough benefits to the table to make learning the new interface worthwhile. And it's not like Microsoft made it easy for people either. Usability experts slammed Windows 8, calling it "disappointing" for "both novice and power users" and a "confusing," "cognitive burden," and since these people are usability experts, I assume that they know a little about what they're talking about.

For home users who spend most of their PC time inhabit online worlds such as Facebook and Twitter, and who do most of their interacting with the PC via the browser, learning the new user interface isn't going to take long. They just need to find Internet Explorer, and many only need that so they can download Chrome. But if you're using your PC to do real work, and operate in a world where hours translate into dollars, then people don't want to be wasting time futzing about with the operating system, especially when that doesn't bring with it tangible benefits compared to say Windows 7, Windows Vista, or, perish the thought, Windows XP.

The biggest problem facing Windows 8 is that older versions of Windows do everything that most users need – especially if they are using traditional desktops and notebooks. Touch-enabled devices are better suited to Windows 8, and there it does bring benefits, but until touch becomes firmly established in touch in niche. Microsoft wanted Windows 8 to reflect the future of computing, but in achieving that goal it lost sight of the fact that the majority of Windows users are stuck in the here and now using budget hardware attached to keyboards and mice.

Another problem facing Windows 8 is the timing of the upgrade cycle. Many businesses had just finished upgrading to Windows 7 from Windows XP – many having avoided Windows Vista – and as a result of this they're looking to get the most out of their investment in the platform.

Enterprise isn't keen to spend money just to satisfy Microsoft.

Pack all this into a ball, and it's clear why the interest in Windows 8 has been lukewarm and best.

And then, like all things, it will fade away. But then that's what always happens to every operating system.

Even Windows XP had to die, and people thought that operating system was immortal.

And what does Microsoft care in the long run which version of Windows you're using, because you're still using Windows, and at some point down the line you'll have to hand over your Benjamins to a PC OEM to get a new PC. With a user base of 1.5 billion, Microsoft has little to worry about.

Now with that out of the way let's take a look at the numbers.

12.5 percent doesn't sound like much, but given that there are some 1.5 billion PCs out there, that small percentage translates into massive numbers – something in the region of 185 million systems running Windows 8.

Not bad.

And what about that comparison to OS X Mavericks? At the WWDC 2014 keynote Apple CEO Tim Cook said that 40 million copies of the new version of OS X had been installed. If 40 million translates into a Mavericks adoption rate of 51 percent – another number provided to us by Cook – then that makes the total Mac user base around 78.5 million Macs.

So, while Mavericks adoption has indeed been fast, the number of PCs running Windows 8 far exceeds the number of Macs running Mavericks, or, for that matter, the number of Macs in total out there.

Numbers can be deceiving, even when they're accurate. 

Topics: Microsoft, Windows, Windows 8

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  • Perhaps

    I run Windows 8.1 in a VM. I only run it because in order to develop Windows Store applications you need W8. Otherwise, I wouldn't use it at all. The majority of my uses are in Windows 7.
    • Microsoft needs to make Metro more useful for desktop users...

      I think the problem with Windows 8 (well, Metro/Modern interface) is that it wasn't useful enough for desktop users (you know, those 1.5 billion Microsoft customers out there). Sure, you could quickly check the weather... but that takes about 5 seconds.

      I still think the solution is to unify the desktop & Metro into one desktop/Start screen so that they work in harmony... instead of competing for attention. This means that desktop apps needs to make use of the "charms" and Metro apps need more functionality (they're just too darn bland at the moment).

      A lot of these changes are coming in Windows 9--like windowed-Metro apps, etc. So it looks like Microsoft is finally figuring it out.
      • No, they need someone who actually UNDERSTANDS marketing strategy!

        All they needed to do to get past the hoopla is to say, "We are offering users CHOICE! You aren't stuck with a DESKTOP menu style some MS programmer chose. You can install a VARIETY of THIRD-PARTY menu systems, some free, others at very nominal cost. Then YOU get to choose the look YOU like.

        "YOU get to choose your browser, YOU get to choose your email program. NOW, *YOU* get to choose your menu style!"

        But apparently after all this mess the folks at MS STILL haven't realized they could easily turn a boondoggle into a coup. I'm sure there are a lot of local TV news consumer reporters and even morning network news shows that would be happy to have a Microsoft "rep" come on and demonstrate how easy it is.
        • Offered a choice.

          They did advertise that we were getting a choice. They told us "You get a new touch interface called 'Metro,' but you still have access to the desktop." That was stretching the truth a bit, but it was the message. Sadly for them, there was a far superior third choice for desktop/laptop users. The vast majority chose to use Windows 7.

          It's not a question of poor marketing. It's about the new product not addressing an actual customer need. Nobody needed (or wanted) a touch-centric interface on their desktops and laptops. They certainly didn't want to give up useful functionality to obtain that useless novelty. Every previous upgrade of Windows addressed existing needs. This one didn't. Better marketing won't convince somebody to buy something that has zero value to them.

          The Metro user interface should have been developed for use on tablets and phones only. The Windows 7 desktop interface should never have been altered for existing machines. Their mistake was crippling desktops to work like tablets just so they could potentially sell software that ran on both at some point in the future. They've been trying to undo that mistake ever since it became obvious that few were buying into that vision.

          The market had a choice. They chose to avoid Windows 8.
          • I agree but

            Bill, I think you pretty much hit the nail on head, however you missed the fact that W8 was and still remains less than half-finished. There are so many inconsistences whereby you start out with Metro style tiles and flyouts and then are randonly dumped back at the original W7 menu such as the Conrol Panel.

            There is also no logic in the size and colour of those ugly tiles and the idea of typing anyway is stupid because you may not know whay you are looking for, whereas you can browse the start menu much more easily on a desktop..

            As for the Charms bar, I find that the most annoying thing in the world on a laptop. Everytime I even breathed on my trackpad that f**** task bar appears and stops me typing etc. I would love some way to completlely until I press Windows+C, and then to put back the desktop gadgets.

            Ultimately a touch desktop is so WRONG unless you have arms like a gorilla and several thousand spare screen cleaners. The only viable future is gesture where users can sit comfotably, not lean across the desk, and move an icon using a wave of the hand etc. They would also not need to worry about spreading pizza, chocolate or lipstick over their computer! :)
          • It's possible

            If your trackpad is Windows 8 compliant with a Windows 8 driver, there are ways to disable gestures.

            The trackpad on my laptop even have an option to disable the trackpad while I'm typing and reactivating it when I stop typing.

            Go look at all options for the trackpad in the Mouse section of Control Panel, you might be surprised.
          • Yes

            I mostly support and defend Win8 (after the first version), but I agree with the trackpad. They cannot get that to work well on any laptop I've used.
          • BillDem .. well said

            couldn't agree more
          • Windows 8 is about platform convergence and scalability

            We don't want to buy seperate devices like Apple and different apps on different OSes.
            We want desktop OS on tablets and we want to be able to run tablet apps on desktops....if we want to.
            We don't have to, but the choice is ours, not the vendor.
            What I don't want is a vendor deciding what is a tablet OS and what is a desktop OS and then keeping them seperate.
            I hope to have full windows on a phone soon, so I can travel with just a keyboard/trackpad and a HDMI cable and a portable hard drive and have my own desktop computer anywhere there is a screen.
        • All they needed was a desktop-centric mode

          Microsoft used to understand the importance of backwards compatibility, both at the API and user interface level. Windows 95 was arguably their most successful product, and in trying it in a VM, I was surprised to discover that it offered an install-time option to run with the Windows 3.x UI. So, it could run 16-bit Windows apps and even offered the same UI.

          I don't know if anyone actually used the Windows 3.x UI under Windows 95, but the important thing is it was there for people who wanted it. For individuals or organisations considering upgrading, that took away an important hurdle. There wasn't even a switch of input methods (e.g. to touch), but Microsoft made certain not to confuse or disappoint existing users.

          Not only did Microsoft make it as easy as possible for users to move from Windows 3.x to Windows 95, but they also offered a Win32 layer (Win32S) for Windows 3.x, which allowed Windows 95 apps to be ported to Windows 3.x. In doing so, they made it sensible for Windows developers to move to the 32-bit API. (Again, I have no idea if anyone actually did port Windows 95 apps to Windows 3.x, but the important thing is that Microsoft made it possible to do so.)

          With Windows 8, Microsoft did exactly the opposite. They added good support for tablets, but forced desktop and non-touch notebook users to use the same interface. They added a new API, WinRT, that's much better than the old one, but allowed no way to port WinRT apps to old versions of the OS. If there had been a desktop-centric mode with a traditional Start menu, the option of running Metro (or whatever they call them now) apps from the desktop and an ability to port WinRT apps to Windows 7, then nobody would have any reason to still use Windows 7, and WinRT would be very attractive for developers.

          The forcing of a new UI and new API on Windows users and developers, apparently without any consideration for compatibility with the old UI or old OS versions, was a major failure of Microsoft management, and a huge break with their tradition under Gates in the 90s. Moreover, it's one they still haven't corrected! If they don't correct it in Windows 9 (or whatever it's called), I'll begin to seriously question the competence of their new CEO.

          As an aside, it's nice to see a sensible article on Windows 8's usage share. I think all the points made in the article are basically spot on.
        • No Choice.

          Users have no choice with Microsoft. They took away the Start Menu, and even though users clearly want it back, they stubbornly refuse to give it back. That's NOT choice. It's arrogance and greed, trying to force users into Metro and its clearly inferior app store. No wonder enterprise businesses are avoiding Windows 8 like the plague. If it weren't for the fact that most all of the new computers offered in Best Buy have Windows 8 as the only choice, I'm sure the sales numbers for Windows 8 would be even worse than they are.
          If Microsoft would put back the OPTION of enabling the REAL Start Menu, I believe most everyone would shut up, life would get back to normal, and some enterprise businesses would actually consider upgrading to Windows 8.
          I hope the folks at Stardock sell 185 million copies of Start8 at $5 each and get very rich. Microsoft is losing far more money than Stardock is making because of lackluster acceptance by enterprise businesses--a direct result of their stubborn refusal to put back the CHOICE of enabling a single feature that users have clearly shown they want. The Start Menu!
          • Stardock

            Love Start8 I purchased two copies one for my home computer and one for my work pc.

            Windows 8 is great with regards to resource usage but the UI is rubbish for desktops and laptops.

            And the feedback we get from our pilot users indicates the same, but there is no way we are going to shell out money for Start8 on every corporate machine for a stuff up MS made
          • It's arrogance and greed, trying to force users into Metro and its clearly

            Yes, they thought that selling apps, would be a cash cow... Placing advertisements in Windows would be a cash cow...

            Now they are stuck with Metro for a little longer.
            Let's face it, if they dumped Metro, and the app store now, there would be a large outcry from all those they convinced to support it at the beginning... That includes hardware/software partners, shareholders, developers and even the customers who bought into the idea... And so I think MS will let Metro fade away slowly... Paying lip service to supporting it so it can't be said they dumped it. I really didn't expect MS to dump Metro for Windows 9. "Gadgets" got two generations of Windows, Vista and Windows 7. Then they quietly killed it... I think the same will happen about Metro... Maybe they'll just let it die... Using the mantra that no one supported it. Blame everyone but themselves for it's failure...
            Chimera Obscura
          • I'm pretty sure they won't dump Metro

            Metro is based on WinRT, which is Microsoft's new API. I highly doubt they'll dump it, because it's much better than Win32, and they've invested a lot in it. Even if Win32 was okay in its day (I have my doubts), it's pretty awful now. I can't imagine anyone wanting to develop for it for any reason, except the large installed base.

            Apart from their existing investment, if Microsoft abandon WinRT, developers will probably revolt, and it would mean giving up on the entire tablet and smartphone markets. WinRT is a nice, modern API, and supports HTML/JavaScript apps, which is important given the wide availability of high quality JavaScript libraries. That's where a lot of development is done these days, for the browser, and WinRT allows Microsoft to leverage it for tablet and smartphone (and soon desktop?) apps.

            All Microsoft have to do is make WinRT apps run in windowed mode on the desktop, add any missing functionality that might cause developers to cling to Win32 and maybe create a WinRT layer for Windows 7, so Windows 7 users can run WinRT apps on the desktop. If I were in charge of Microsoft, I'd also consider dumping the Microsoft App Store, and instead focus on providing infrastructure to support app stores from multiple vendors (e.g. Amazon, even Google or Apple), taking a small cut of the revenue.

            The closest past example to WinRT is probably Win32. Microsoft introduced it in Windows NT 3.1 in 1993, and intended it to replace Win16. Windows NT wasn't popular at all, except with businesses, so Win32 languished for a few years, until Windows 95 came along. Windows 95 offered the right mix of compatibility, performance, features and reliability, and was a resounding success, which saved Win32. What Microsoft need now is the WinRT equivalent of Windows 95. Can they build it? We'll see.
          • I'm pretty sure they will.

            "Metro is based on WinRT, which is Microsoft's new API. I highly doubt they'll dump it, because it's much better than Win32,"

            Forget the under the hood stuff. People don't like it because of the restrictions those API's put on the devs. Consumers don't buy into the full screen approach and touch focused layout of modern. Many apps in modern API are less functional then their desktop equivalents. Even MS's own Skype modern app is absolute trash compared to the desktop Skype. And the whole "snap feature" for modern running on desktop has a very weak UI. Most modern apps are too simple and lacking decent functionality. I heart radio is about the only modern app that I find able to use on desktop with it snapped 1/3 to side. But I am in the southern Hemisphere now and find that almost all modern apps won't even work, or have access (Fiji Islands). So for people outside the US the modern interface is unusable and on slower metered connections works 1000X less efficiently then desktop apps. So I don't buy your points about WinRT. The API's are trash and devs write crappy apps for it or don't bother writing apps for it at all. Its doomed. Android is so much more flexible for coders and the apps it supports are so much more useful. MS will offer office on android and IOS. Sure, it may work a bit better on a surface RT but who wants to waist money on a crappy device like that? I think the verdict is in from the actual usage stats on modern. People prefer desktop apps on notebook/laptops and prefer android/IOS for consumption. MS had but one chance to write proper API's to be flexible like IOS/Android but it ended up with something far to restricted and walled in. Personally I feel IOS is also far to restricting leaving only Android as a viable OS for consumption devices. Windows 8 only sells because thats all that is offered on retail. Most online sales are seeing W7 being shipped. But on all the systems that do have W8 the stats don't lie. Modern apps are like well liked.. at all. And start 8 and start is now type of apps are very popular for adding start menu.
            Trent Larson
          • I doubt you know much about the issue

            You start off commenting about full-screen apps being a problem, apparently failing to realise that Microsoft have already demonstrated WinRT apps running in standard desktop windows. The rest of your comment is a tedious rant, and I doubt you even have a clue about developing on Android v WinRT.
          • we are not even waiting for Microsoft's blessings

            We are re-compiling win32 desktop apps to ARM and running it on Win RT ourselves.
          • I just don't get it

            It would be sad if the biggest problem was the Start menu and that hampered growth. I think you should have a choice but not only have I not been stifled by the lack of a start menu, I am actually more efficient without it. Want to open something that was on the start menu, just start typing (from the start screen). You can usually find it in about 2 seconds.
        • some choice is gone

          Well, some choice is no longer available. I hate the flat look of Windows 8. I want some of the bling that was available in Windows 7. At least the 3d effects used for buttons, borders, etc. I invariably turned off all animation effects but the 3d effects I liked.

          Most of this controversy would be gone if they'd just left the Start Menu on the desktop. People, like me, might have complained about the lack of some desktop bling but messing with my work flow doesn't make me too enamored with the thought process at Microsoft. If there hadn't been a start menu replacement available, I would have put Windows 7 back on my machine.
          • Aero Is Wasted Resources.

            Lack of the Aero effects set is a completely superficial to complaint about Windows 8. Windows 8 has superior eye candy that actually place a role in how the OS functions, such as the hot corners and the swipe down gesture to close an app by throwing it away. Special effects are good when they play a role in function, but not so good when they are just there to make things look pretty. I always thought that aero was gaudy and I'm glad MS left it behind.
            Bobby Salvin