Mac Musings

The Windows Death Spiral

Daniel Knight - 2008.07.16 -

Of all the Windows fanboys out there, Paul Thurrott has the biggest reality distortion field - or maybe just the biggest blinders. Just look at the recent headline on his SuperSite for Windows:

Windows Vista usage share surges 355 percent, leaves Mac OS X in the dust

That's easy to do when you're comparing a newly released operating system (Vista was released in Nov. 2006 to computer makers, Jan. 2007 to the public) against an established one (the first release of Mac OS X came in March 2001).

Thurrott's first error is comparing two different things: the newest version of Windows to all versions of Mac OS X. Using the same kind of reasoning, we could argue that Leopard usage share surged a bazillion percent, leaving Windows in the dust. After all, one year ago there were no Leopard sales, and Vista has done little to grow the Windows market. (It may do just the opposite.)

As Benjamin Disraeli said, and Mark Twain repeated, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." You can make numbers say almost anything you want to if you twist them around enough.

Thurrott makes a big deal about Net Applications, the source of his numbers, measuring usage share, not market share. Problem is, Net Applications can't seem to distinguish between the Classic Mac OS and Mac OS X - instead they report shares for Macintel (Mac OS X 10.4 and later on Intel Macs) and Mac OS (which we can only assume includes all other Macs).

At this point probably 98% of Mac users on the Internet are using Mac OS X, so we'll just add those to figures together. Let's look at the bigger picture, based on numbers compiled by Net Applications.

User share by operating system, August 2007 to June 2008
Figure 1: User share by operating system, August 2007 to June 2008.

Using their numbers, the Mac user share has grown from 6.18% in August 2007 to 7.94% in June 2008, an increase of 28.5% (85.5% if we only look at Wintel). Thurrott pooh-poohs this growth, quoting Preston Gralla: "...when seen in absolute numbers, it's not particularly impressive."

That's nothing compared to Net Application's data for Linux: 0.47% in August 2007 compared to 0.80% in June 2008. That's a 70% increase! OS X is growing and Linux is growing, but what about Windows?

Windows Death Spiral

Windows user share has declined from 90.81% (Windows 2000, XP, and Vista combined share) to 89.45% in that same period, a 1.5% drop. Nowhere in his article does Thurrott acknowledge this reality. Maybe he didn't take the time to crunch the numbers himself, relying on the data Net Applications reports. The simple fact is that since the release of Vista, the Windows user share has declined.

User share by operating system, August 2007 to June 2008
Figure 2: User share by operating system, August 2007 to June 2008.

There's a big difference between the kind of chart Net Applications shows, which breaks things down by versions of Windows and types of Mac hardware (the basis for our Figure 1) and our Figure 2, which shows total operating system user share. In Figure 2, there's no line showing huge growth for Vista, just a line showing Windows in decline. There aren't two lines in the 2-6% range for different types of Macs, just one line showing the total Mac user base climbing toward the 10% mark.

As Disraeli and Twain said, "lies, damned lies, and statistics." Which chart you look at makes a huge difference in what you conclude.

Other Evidence

We see similar trends in our site logs here at Low End Mac. Our software doesn't distinguish between versions of OS X, let alone Intel vs. PowerPC hardware, and the OS X user share fluctuates in the 44-51% range. It's been over 47.5% for over a year now.

Windows had 48.5% of our user share in October 2006, the month before Vista firsts became available. Since that time, it has dropped, and our Windows user share now fluctuates in the 42-45% range. Last month, 79.7% of site visitors using Windows were using XP, while 15.4% were using Vista. That's close to the 18.0% of Windows users that Net Applications found using Vista in June 2008. (They also report 79.6% of Windows users are on XP, almost exactly our figure.)

There's no denying that Vista sales and Vista use are on the rise. Most of this growth is at the expense of Windows XP, which has lost 10.6% of its user share since August 2007. Some of it is at the expense of Windows 2000 and earlier. And most of the Vista growth is probably due to Microsoft officially discontinuing Windows XP, giving users no choice but Vista if they want to run Windows. (See Vista Is Not 'Leaving Macs in the Dust' for more on this topic.)

At the same time, Linux user share has grown 70% and Mac user share 28.5% - almost all of it at the expense of Windows user share. (Yes, a few Linux users have gone Mac, and a few Macs are now running Linux, but those numbers are pretty small.) Between them, Macs and Linux have seen 31.4% growth in user share since August 2007, while the Windows user share continues its slow decline.

My predictions: Net Application will be reporting Linux at over 1%, Macs at about 10%, and Windows at under 88% user share for September 2008.

And Paul Thurrott will still be ranting about how much faster Vista user share is growing than Mac user share.

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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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