Windows 8's usage uptake falls further behind Vista's

Difference between the two operating systems'early adoption stats widens in January

Windows 8 fell further behind the pace of Windows Vista's uptake last month, a metric company said, even as usage share of the new operating system continued to slowly climb.

Statistics from Net Applications showed that Windows 8's January share was 2.5% of all Windows PCs, up from December's 1.9%. When what the analytics firm tagged as "touch" for Windows 8 and Windows RT were added, the January total rose slightly to 2.6%.

Because Net Applications measures operating system usage share by tallying unique visitors to websites, the "touch" numbers reflected browsers -- overwhelmingly Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) -- run from the user interface once named "Metro" on Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Even so, Windows 8 share lagged behind the 3.3% share that Vista scored after its third full month of availability. In fact, last month's seven-tenths of a point gap between the two was more than double the difference of three-tenths of a point in December, indicating that Windows 8 is not only not matching Vista's pace, but failing further behind.

Windows 8's inability to match Vista's usage, first seen last month, is an ill omen for Microsoft's new operating system. Vista has been pegged a failure -- Microsoft itself has not bothered to mention the OS for years -- because of its lackluster adoption. Associations with that flop, rather than with the triumphs of Windows XP and Windows 7, increasingly paint Windows 8 as a failure thus far.

Another troubling sign for Windows 8 is that its gains month-by-month have slowed slightly since its release. In January, for example, Windows 8 grew by a smaller amount than it did in either November or December 2012.

On the brighter side, the operating system has increased not only month by month, but within January, week by week. During the week ending Jan. 26, for instance, Windows 8 recorded a usage share of 2.7% of all Windows systems, up from the previous weeks' 2.4% and 2.2%.

But Windows 8's prospects remain extremely dim when compared with Windows 7. By the end of Windows 7's third month of availability, the 2009 edition powered 8.2% of all Windows machines, or more than three times Windows 8's current share.

Microsoft has maintained that sales of Windows 8 licenses have matched those of Windows 7 at the same point in its release cycle. But Net Applications' numbers are at odds with that claim.

The gap between Windows 8's and Vista's usage uptake pace widened in January as the new operating system fell even further behind Windows 7's uptake late 2009 and early 2010. (Data: Net Applications.)

Some analysts have speculated that while Microsoft has sold approximately the same number of Windows 8 licenses as it did of Windows 7, the PCs associated with many of those licenses languish in OEM and retailer inventories, preventing them from being counted by Net Applications. Another possible explanation: Some who purchased a Windows 8 PC, with its Windows 8 license, have subsequently applied downgrade rights to run the older Windows 7.

Ultimately, however, experts believe that the problem for Windows 8 lies in an accelerating shift away from desktop operating systems to those powering tablets, a market where Microsoft has so far failed to drum up significant demand.

In an interview earlier this week, Bob O'Donnell of IDC noted that tablets have cannibalized the time spent on PCs -- just as they've cannibalized sales of traditional desktops and laptops. "People are using tablets in front of the TV, or for a couple of quick emails between meetings, and that takes away some of the time once spent on PCs," said O'Donnell.

"And there's a lot of people who have relatively-recent-vintage PCs with a darn good operating system on them," he added, referring to Windows 7. "The big picture is that [previously] the only IT a consumer bought was a PC. Now they have IT spend[ing] across PCs, tablets and smartphones."

Net Applications also reported statistics on other editions of Windows.

Both Windows XP and Windows 7 reversed long-running trends last month, with XP gaining four-tenths of a percentage point to end January at 39.5% of all personal computers, or 43.1% of Windows-only machines. Meanwhile, Windows 7 lost six-tenths of a percentage point to slip to 44.5% of all PCs and 48.5% of all Windows PCs.

Typically, XP sheds share and Windows 7 gains ground.

Net Applications measures operating system usage by tracking unique visitors to the tens of thousands of websites it monitors for clients. Some, but not all, of its data is available to the public on its site.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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