As support ends, Windows 7 users head for the exits

PC owners who had been putting off the decision to upgrade or retire their old Windows 7 PCs woke up suddenly in January, as support for the older OS officially ended. Data from multiple sources shows a sharp decline in the Windows 7 population, as Windows 10 usage continues to grow.

After hitting the snooze button for the past two years, Windows 7 users worldwide finally woke up in January to the reality that Microsoft was about to stop delivering security updates to their PCs. The result? A sharp spike in upgrades to Windows 10.

Usage statistics from the United States Government's Digital Analytics Program (DAP) show that traffic from PCs running Windows 7 dropped by roughly 4.2% in January, from 18.9% to 15.7%, while the corresponding figure for Windows 10 PCs went up nearly the same amount, from 75.8% to 79.4%.

With an installed base of approximately 1.2 billion PCs worldwide, that translates to roughly 50 million Windows 7 PCs that were upgraded or replaced in the first month of 2020.

That's a striking increase from the average 1.5% monthly decline in Windows 7 usage over the previous five months.

Other widely cited sources confirm the phenomenon.

Figures released by Net Market Share, for example, showed that Windows 7 usage dropped by 4.4% for the month, as Windows 10 traffic climbed 4.6%.

netmarketshare-windows-versions-jan2020.jpg

Source:NetMarketShare

The corresponding figures from StatCounter Global Stats were less dramatic but showed the same trend, with Windows 7 traffic declining and Windows 10 usage increasing by just under 2% each.

statcounter-windows-versions-jan2020.jpg

Source: StatCounter Global Stats

(It's worth noting that Net Market Share acknowledged a flaw in its data that caused iPads running iPadOS 13 to be counted instead as MacOS devices from September to December 2019. The company says it has "mostly corrected" the errors but was unable to completely identify and correct the data for that period. Those kind of errors make it difficult to consider their data as authoritative.)

Also: The end of Windows 7 is the real end of the PC era 

Microsoft's decision to begin displaying pop-up warnings of the end of support date to users still on Windows 7 no doubt helped raise awareness among PC owners who don't follow tech-focused news sources. It didn't hurt that Microsoft continues to allow free Windows 10 upgrades for PCs, as confirmed by a steady stream of reader reports that continue to arrive in my inbox daily.

The open question now is when the spike in upgrades will level off. Even the most optimistic data suggests that roughly 200 million Windows 7 PCs are still connected to the internet, and as the months go on, those unpatched devices will increasingly be vulnerable to new attacks.