At year's end, XP usage plunges as Windows 7 and 8 take over

It looks like PC owners are finally beginning to relax their grip on Windows XP. According to new worldwide usage share data, XP is down sharply, with Microsoft's two fully supported operating systems, Windows 7 and 8, picking up the slack.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

[Update 2-Jan 8:35AM PST: The original version of this article was based on numbers published on January 1 by NetMarketShare. On January 2, NetMarketShare published revised numbers. The text and chart in this post have been revised to reflect the details in those changes, which did not affect the overall conclusion.] 

Apparently a lot of people made an early New Year’s resolution to ditch Windows XP.

In the latest NetMarketShare numbers on worldwide operating-system usage, Windows XP’s share dropped sharply, to just under 29 percent. That’s an 8 percent downward shift since July after a decline of only 2 percent in the first half of 2013, suggesting that consumers and businesses that had been procrastinating are finally making good on plans to stop using the soon-to-be-unsupported Windows XP. At this pace, Windows XP usage will be well below the 20 percent mark when the end of the line arrives in April.

The net gains in usage this month went to Microsoft’s two fully supported Windows versions, with Windows 7 rising slightly to 47.5 percent and Windows 8 continuing its steady increase in share. The total usage from Windows 8.x crossed into double-digit territory for the first time with Windows 8 and its free update, Windows 8.1, reaching a combined total of 10.5 percent.

The year ends with a significant change in the mix of Windows versions in use. At the beginning of the year, two Windows versions that had long since ended their mainstream support phase, XP and Vista, made up about half of usage from the installed Windows base. By year’s end, the two combined were barely over 32 percent and the Windows 7/8 combo had climbed to 58 percent of the usage share. (Only the bitterest diehards continue using Windows Vista, which is now at 3.6 percent. Interestingly, that number is identical to the share of usage for Windows 8.1 after only two months on the market, and both operating systems, one on its way out, the other in its ascendancy, garner more usage than any single version of OS X and more than double the share of Linux on the desktop.)

I’ve put together a chart, based on the NetMarketShare data, to show how the mix of Windows versions changed dramatically over the course of the year. Windows continues to enjoy a roughly 90 percent share of the market for conventional PCs, down less than 1 percent from the year's start. But Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 (blue and blue-gray at the bottom of the chart below) are inexorably crowding out XP and Vista (orange and yellow, respectively). That trend will certainly continue. (And despite the negative year-over-year growth rates, PCs will continue to sell in large numbers—close to 300 million per year, according to estimates from Gartner and IDC.) 


 Data: NetMarketShare December 2013

Apple and Microsoft have both shown continued success in their efforts to convince their user bases to accept free upgrades to the latest version. This month, Windows 8.1 usage represents 34.4 percent of all Windows 8.x PCs, up from 28.4 percent last month. Apple has convinced 39 percent of its eligible installed base (those running OS X 10.6+) to update, an increase from 33.9 percent last month.

Worldwide usage of Apple's OS X stalled in 2013, ending the year more or less where it began, with around 7.5 percent of worldwide usage. That's still a tremendously profitable business segment for Apple, and the flat line also reflects Apple's resounding success with its iPad line, which is not counted in these numbers. For Mac users, as my colleague Larry Seltzer notes, that stubbornly small market share has a silver lining, with online criminals treating the Mac installed base as not worth bothering with.

The latest numbers on worldwide desktop operating system share from StatCounter tell a similar story, with Windows 7 and 8 logging a 54.8 percent and 10.5 percent share, respectively. Windows XP is below the 20 percent line, dropping nearly 7 percentage points over the course of the year. One tidbit from the StatCounter numbers: Chrome OS has gone from tiny blip to blip, doubling its usage share in one month from 0.05 percent to 0.1 percent, a number that translates to one Chromebook for every 100 Windows 8 PCs. That absolute number isn’t enough to worry Microsoft execs, but if that sharp jump is the beginning of a new trend line, it could turn into several percentage points before the end of 2014.

The December NetMarketShare numbers for desktop browsing have changed little in recent months. Internet Explorer ended the year up 2.5 percent, at roughly 58 percent of the total. Firefox and Chrome are in second and third, with 18.4 and 16.2 percent, respectively. Internet Explorer 6 and 7 are on life support, with usage figures totaling 6.6 percent. Internet Explorer 8 is still the most popular version, with 20.6 percent usage, but the more modern versions, 10 and 11, combined to exceed that number with 21.5 percent. The higher percentage of use for Internet Explorer 10 is no doubt attributable to the fact it's now delivered as an automatic update for Windows 7 and the default in Windows 8; Internet Explorer 11 is the default browser in Windows 8.1.

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