Mac Musings

Most Windows Users Still Satisfied with Windows XP

Dan Knight - 2010.07.14 - Tip Jar

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Fascinating statistic: 74% of business PCs are still using Windows XP. You know, the version of Windows that replaced Windows Me way back in 2001.

That's the same year that Mac OS X 10.0 was released. In fact, OS X 10.1 was released one month after XP was released to manufacturers and one month before it was available at retail.

OS X 10.2 came out 11 months later, and 14 months later 10.3 arrived. Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, the oldest version that still has a good following, arrived 1-1/2 years after that and remained the current version of the Mac OS for 2-1/2 years.

OS X 10.5 Leopard, the last version to support PowerPC Macs, came to market in October 2007, and 10.6 Snow Leopard, the first Intel-only version, arrived on August 2009.

That's five major releases since late 2001, compared with two for Windows - Vista (released to OEMs in November 2006 and to retail in January 2007) and Windows 7 (released to manufacturers in July 2009 and to the consumer in October 2009).

Operating System Shares

Let's look at some more statistics.

NetMarketshare posts monthly usage statistics for operating systems. Their latest data (June 2010) puts Windows at 91.46%, Macs at 5.16%, Linux at 1.07%, iOS devices at 0.88%, and everything else behind that. They further break this down by OS versions:

  • Windows XP, 62.43% (entire market, not just business PCs)
  • Windows Vista, 14.68%
  • Windows 7, 13.70%
  • Mac OS X 10.6, 2.47%
  • Mac OS X 10.5, 1.90%
  • Mac OS X 10.4, 0.64%

If we subdivide each OS by version, we discover that XP has over 68% of the Windows market, followed by Vista at 16% and Windows 7 at 15%. Looking at their trend graph, we see that XP has declined by roughly 10% over the past 11 months, Vista has lost over 20% of its users, and Windows 7 is on the ascendant, going from less than 1% a year ago to 15% of the Windows market today.

On the Mac side, OS X 10.6 now had 48% of the user base, followed by 10.5 at just under 37%. Good old Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger has a little more than 12% of the Mac market. Looking at trends, nearly half of Leopard users have moved to Snow Leopard over the past year. Tiger doesn't even make the trend graph.

Another Interesting Statistic

While Windows XP, nearly nine years old, dominates the PC market, the average business PC running it is 4.4 years old. If that is correct, it means that nearly half of the business PCs in use are capable of running Vista - which means that they are also capable of running Windows 7, which has lower hardware requirements than Vista.

Based on what I've read, Windows 7 is a serious improvement in every respect, and it's become Microsoft's best selling software ever. But it seems to be going primarily to new PC buyers and Vista users longing for something better. It's impact on the XP installed base is going to come more from it being today's default OS, so when old hardware is replaced, Windows 7 is what comes with the new machine.

The World of IT

Information technology departments are inherently conservative: They like what they know, resist change, and fear the unknown.

When I worked in IT, we used Macs throughout the company because computers had come into the workplace through the design department. We had one Windows PC for software testing when I left there in 2001, and the marketing department had convinced management that they had to use Windows, because that's what "real" businesses used. I didn't know Windows - still don't - and happily left before the switch. And before the malware infections.

Most IT departments are wed to Windows, and they will continue to use what they know for as long as they can. Vista was widely panned, making them even less likely to consider migrating to Windows 7. Stick with what you know and keep the other platforms (Linux, Macs, and iOS devices) at bay.

Interestingly, Microsoft knows on which side its bread is buttered, and according to several reports on the Web this week, the company will continue to allow Windows XP downgrades, although it no longer sells Windows XP licenses. This means that the IT conservatives can keep using what they know for years to come - perhaps as much as a decade - before being forced to use something newer and better on new PCs.

The Mac World

Microsoft has brought this state on itself. Windows itself is an inherently conservative operating system, designed to run old software on old hardware. And because Microsoft isn't a PC maker, manufacturers have no incentive to lock people into a newer version of Windows.

On the Mac side, the opposite prevails. Any Mac introduced in the past year will run Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and nothing older. If you want the latest hardware, you have no choice but to use the latest operating system.

Apple has been doing this since 1986, when the Mac Plus shipped with System 3.2. With very few exceptions, that has been the case ever since - new hardware would run no Mac OS older than the one it shipped with.

Where Microsoft is only interested in selling software and doesn't care if you downgrade to a nearly-decade-old operating system, Apple wants to give you the best possible experience on your new Mac. No Tiger. No Leopard, unless you're buying the long-in-tooth Mac Pro or MacBook Air. Just Snow Leopard.

As in the Windows world, you can run a newer operating system on older hardware up to a point. Most G3 Macs will run Tiger, and most G4 Macs will run Leopard, the last version to support G4 and G5 CPUs. And every Intel-based Mac can run Snow Leopard.

This explains the big difference in operating system shares between Windows, where a positively ancient OS (with three service packs) continues to dominate, and Macs, where an OS version less than a year old already has nearly half of the installed base.

If Microsoft could do the same thing, Apple might not have passed Microsoft's market capitalization. But that's the price it pays for being a software company.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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