Windows 8 Usage: Glass Half Full or Glass Half Empty?

Windows 8 Usage: Glass Half Full or Glass Half Empty?

Where Windows 8 usage statistics go to die

How you view usage statistics about Windows 8 probably says more about your outlook on life than it does about how well the OS is actually selling in the real world. Still, it’s always interesting to peer through the looking glass and see what’s happening.

According to March 2013 usage statistic from Net Applications—the firm continues to mislabel this data as “market share,” which is actually a measure of unit sales, and not usage—Windows 8 is now in use by more people than any version of Mac OS X or indeed any non-Windows OS. Or at least that’s how the glass half full types would describe it.

If you’re more inclined to the glass half empty way of life, Windows 8 now accounts for just 3.17 percent of all desktop OS usage, and this a five long months after its release. To be clear 3.17 is a small number. It’s only slightly bigger than 2.67, the percentage of desktop OS users running Windows 8 a month before. That is, growth in Windows 8 usage is apparently proceeding pretty slowly.

I’m a bit more analytical than that. When you consider that Microsoft claims there are 1.3 billion active Windows users worldwide, you can do a bit of math to arrive at an admittedly rough figure for total Windows 8 usage: I place it at just north 45 million users. I arrived at this figure by noting that 91 percent of all PC users are using some version of Windows; thus, the total number of PCs in use is about 1.42 billion. 3.17 percent of 1.42 billion is about 45 million.

45 million is a pretty big number. Glass half full.

But I’m also a bit more analytical than that. With Microsoft claiming roughly 20 million Windows license sales per month for over three years now, the firm should have sold about 100 million Windows 8 licenses by the end of March 2013. 45 million, alas, is less than half of that figure. Glass half empty.

There’s little need to rip these numbers apart. They’re all just ballpark estimates. I’m more interested, in a way, in how one might choose to analyze them.  For example, there are lots of reports this week about how poorly Windows 8 is doing, using the 3.17 percent figure from Net Applications as proof. CNET, for example, notes that Windows 8 only “ekes out” a small slice of the market, while PC World says the growth is “slowly but steadily.” Glass half empty.

What no one seems to have noticed, however is that all Mac OS X versions combined make up just 6.93 percent of overall PC usage. Mac OS X has been in the market for 12 years. How is this not an epic disaster? How does OS X “eke out” less than 7 percent of overall usage after all that time?

If Microsoft and its hardware partners do absolutely nothing to improve Windows 8 and the devices on which it runs this year, this beleaguered new OS will still surpass all Mac OS X usage within one year of its release. We can only wonder how much faster that will happen if these clueless companies actually get their act together. Glass half full.

Granted, Apple has moved on to the far more lucrative iOS, which runs on iPad (as well as iPhone and iPod touch). This system arguably competes with Windows 8 as well, especially the ARM-based Windows RT derivative, because Microsoft is targeting a new class of hybrid PCs with these releases, many of which are tablets. And Net Applications says that iOS accounts for 61 percent of all mobile usage, compared to 25 percent for Google’s Android. Windows 8/RT isn’t included in this data, Windows Phone is, since for Net Application, mobile usage includes smart phones and media tablets, not PCs. But I think it’s fair to say that iPad and, to a lesser extent, Android-based tablets will continue to outperform Windows tablets for the foreseeable future. Glass half empty.

I spend a lot of time running these kinds of numbers around in my head in a bid to better understand what’s really going on in the world. It’s a moving target. Microsoft will eventually—TechEd 2013 perhaps, or the firm’s next quarterly financial report—issue some form of momentum report about Windows 8 license sales. And analyst firms such as Gartner and IDC will provide quarterly estimates of PC sales, giving us more data points to consider. If you’re really into spelunking, you can look up historical data for Windows 7 to see how well that OS was doing at similar time frames in its lifecycle. (Though to be honest, I’m starting to doubt that data, given how consistent the monthly license sales were over three full years.)

Ultimately, what I’m left with is the notion that the most extreme headlines are often the ones that can be the most safely ignored. People with an axe to grind will claim that Windows 8 adoption is amazingly small while conveniently ignoring the far more damning Mac OS X data. And Windows fan boys will wave their hands around and distract you by claiming that Windows (generally) still dominates the PC market. Neither one of these points gets to the heart of the matter. But the fact that this is still a hot topic of discussion months after the Windows 8 launch is perhaps all you really need to know. The real story here, if you will.

Put simply, I see plenty of data, but I have nothing but questions. Glass half empty?

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