Windows 8.1 surges in usage as XP continues to drop

The latest web usage numbers from NetMarketShare for October show that free is the key to success. Microsoft's Windows 8.1 and Apple's new OS X Mavericks, both released as free updates, found their way onto a significant number of PCs for the month.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

If you want people to adopt your platform, make it free.

That's the lesson in this month's web usage statistics from NetMarketShare, which measure worldwide usage share of desktop and mobile operating systems and browsers.

In October, both Microsoft and Apple released free updates to their flagship desktop and notebook operating systems. And despite the fact that the updates arrived late in the month, their impact was substantial.

Microsoft's Windows 8.1 clocked usage of 1.72 percent, doubling its share from the previous month. That gives the Windows 8.x family a total usage share of 9.25 percent after one full year on the market. (Historically speaking, it appears that Windows 8 is following the same adoption patterns as Windows XP, whose share of the installed base was also just under 10 percent after its first year on the market.)

Windows usage, Dec 2012 - Oct 2013 (source:NetMarketShare)

Usage of Windows XP, which celebrated its 12th birthday in October, continues to drop precipitously in NetMarketShare's measurements as it heads toward its end-of-support date less than six months from now. For October, XP usage dropped to 31.24 percent, a new low. Windows 7 usage is virtually unchanged from the previous month, with just under half of all PCs running that flavor of Windows.

Meanwhile, Apple's new OS X Mavericks (officially OS X 10.9), hit a usage level of 0.84 percent in its first (partial) month of availability. Overall, OS X usage continues to climb, slowly, with all OS X versions combined reaching 7.73 percent for the month, a new high. Linux advocates can also celebrate as usage of that free alternative also hit a new high of 1.61 percent.

Update: Several people asked about StatCounter numbers, which were also published today. Those numbers are hard to compare, because they include mobile operating systems as well as game consoles. When I isolated the figures to just desktop OSes so they're a proper comparison to the NetMarketShare numbers, here's what I got:

According to StatCounter's October numbers:

  • Windows 7 has 55.3 percent usage (essentially unchanged from a year ago)
  • XP has declined from 28.1 percent a year ago to just a hair over 20 percent today.
  • Total usage of Windows 8.x is approximately 8.6 percent. StatCounter says between September and October usage of Windows 8.1 increased by 10X.
  • OS X usage is in decline, dropping below 7 percent after being at 7.59 percent a year ago.
  • Linux is at 1.16 percent.

StatCounter's browser statistics do not break out differences between mobile and desktop devices, so it is impossible to compare them to the corresponding figures from NetMarketShare.

NetMarketShare still doesn't register any share from Chrome OS. StatCounter says Chrome OS usage is now approximately 4/100 of 1 percent.

In the desktop browser segment, Internet Explorer continues its steady growth, reaching 58.22 percent usage. That's the highest level of usage for the Internet Explorer family in more than two years, and it comes as usage of Firefox and Chrome on traditional desktop operating systems continue to slide. According to the NetMarketShare numbers, Chrome usage hit a two-year low of 15.42 percent in October after briefly nearing the 20 percent mark earlier in the year.

It's worth noting that the modern, standards-compliant versions of Internet Explorer, 10 and 11, combined for a total usage of 20.43 percent for the month. That's more than the Firefox or Chrome figures. And Internet Explorer 10, which doesn't run on Windows XP, is poised to overtake IE 8 as the most-used version.

The PC market is no longer growing as it once was, but even with lower shipments the installed base of traditional PCs continues to grow, with hundreds of millions of new shipments per year. For consumers (and increasingly for businesses), tablets and mobile devices are where the market momentum and excitement are to be found. But in most cases those new tablets are still going to be companion devices in households and offices that also have at least one PC or Mac.

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