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A 'Forever Version' of Windows Claims the Market Share Crown

The December 2018 market share numbers are in from Net Applications and they reveal a major milestone for the IT industry. Windows 10 has a larger market share than any other desktop operating system version, including the previous king of all desktop OS versions, Windows 7. It's a narrow but solid lead, with Windows 10 at 39.22% and Windows 7 at 36.9%. It brings Windows 10 on top for both of the most frequently cited platform trackers (Windows 10 took the lead with Statcounter in January 2018). Windows 10's now undisputed lead in both major trackers tells us several things about the state of IT infrastructure.

First, it tells us that Microsoft still has enough weight in the industry to dictate an operating system shift. That seems like a fairly obvious point, but Microsoft did ask a lot with Windows 10, especially with the new and confusing update model. Things Microsoft had going for it included the inertia of an industry accustomed to moving to the next Windows OS every few years and that limited-time free upgrade offer. Even with those advantages, success wasn't a foregone conclusion. Uptake of Windows 10 has been slower and at a smaller scale than Microsoft had publicly hoped for. Three-and-a-half years after launching, Windows 10 is on about 700 million machines. That falls short of the 1 billion systems Microsoft had predicted Windows 10 would power in slightly less time, but it's still impressive. What's also impressive is that Microsoft managed that progress at the same time that it has been distancing itself from its long-held identity as a Windows company. Of course, there's also the stick. Windows 7 hits the end of extended support one year from now. Look for Windows 10's share to ratchet up steadily as companies and consumers race to meet the support deadline, or at least convert as shortly after it passes as they can.

Getting Windows 10 to the top spot underscores something else -- Microsoft continues to dominate an important piece of technology real estate. The PC is certainly not the prize that it was 10 years ago. Credit for that goes to the smartphone, the mobile app ecosystem, constantly improving wireless data coverage and speeds and cloud-based applications, among other things. Yet the PC is still the platform where most day-to-day productive work gets done. The smartphone eats into it, the tablet takes a piece, but for the most part the form factors are finding their niches and the PC fills a critical one. Tasks at which the PC remains the ideal platform include working with words, numbers or code on a big screen with a full-size keyboard, multitasking, copying and pasting across applications and storing files for offline access. Desktops and laptops are still a massive market, remember that 700 million figure above? Predictions that Linux would take off on the PC remain largely unfulfilled. Mac continues to gain a few percentage points here and there, but there's been nothing like a large drop off in Windows usage.

What may be most important about this latest desktop share milestone, though, is that it could be the last shift of this type. Windows operating system migrations have been a staple project in the IT industry for decades -- Windows 95 to Windows 98, Windows 98 to Windows 2000, Windows 98 to Windows XP and on and on and on. The project has come up like clockwork every three or four years. Windows 10 was famously called "the last version of Windows" by Microsoft developer evangelist Jerry Nixon. A better way to think of it may be as the "forever version of Windows." The idea with Windows 10 is it is constantly updated, so versions go out of support every 18 months, but keeping current with the updates will push those support dates back indefinitely. Migrations for the most part will be due to hardware refresh cycles, not Microsoft support deadlines.

Admittedly, it's more complicated than that with the Long Term Servicing Channel and Software Assurance timelines and other licensing and support wrinkles. There will be kinks that arise with the updates and the rings where application compatibility will be an issue, but they'll largely be one-off situations. A relic, thankfully, is the industry-wide, all-hands-on-deck situations of the old Windows update cycle with ISVs and OEMs all creating new versions of their PCs, applications and drivers, and partners and IT departments testing them all out at once and trying to get them fixed in the first service pack. Another upside could be a more secure Internet, where aging security flaws can't continuously be exploited because connected consumer machines are automatically updated for free, reducing everyone's risk.

For the 39.22% or so of users at home and in organizations who have migrated to the forever OS, congratulations. All of that migration drama is behind you. If you're in the process of a migration project or planning one, take heart -- this should be the last of its kind.

A lot of challenging IT projects remain. The forced update from one soon-to-be-unsupported OS to the next one with its own ticking support clock won't be one of them. Instead, partners and IT departments can focus on higher value efforts like server migrations to the cloud, digital transformation projects and creating great business applications.

The end of the great Windows migration is in sight. In the wake of that mainstay IT project is a more stable, more secure PC with a smaller, but still important, role.


Posted by Scott Bekker on January 07, 2019


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