Finally! More people use Windows 7 than XP

Just in time for Windows 8's debut, its predecessor surpasses the version released 11 years ago. In August, Windows 7 usage finally exceeded XP, according to Net Applications. The operating systems released in September 2009 and October 2001, respectively. In-between, Microsoft shipped ill-fated Vista, which carries stigma reserved for few major Microsoft products -- Bob, Windows ME and Vista, most notably.

NetApps released the findings today, as part of its monthly data dump on browser and operating systems. The methodology isn't exact and, contrary to many other reports, doesn't reflect market share but usage share -- and there is a huge difference. Market share typically measures something finite, such as X number widgets sold over Y time period. Usage share measures, say, the number of people using big screen and little screen TVs, and the same people might use both. More people may now use Windows 7 but some of them may also use XP.

The XP-to-7 milestone is long-time coming and foreshadows that the transition to Windows 8 may be slower still, given that so many businesses and consumers so recently adopted the newest version. Microsoft faces the same insurmountable challenge now as in the past: The company is its own biggest competitor. New Windows versions largely compete with old, despite Mac share gains. For many users, 11 year-old XP was good enough, and that's the threshold Windows 8 must cross to exceed its predecessor: Be better enough.

In June, NetApps predicted the switchover would take place in July, but the market moved slower than anticipated. In August, Windows 7 global usage share reached 42.76 percent, compared to 42.52 percent for XP. More broadly, on the desktop Windows is entrenched with 91.77 percent usage share. The Mac operating system follows (7.13 percent).

Methodology relies heavily on Internet connections, which is fine for the desktop (where browsers have a long usage history) but not so for mobile. Smartphone and tablets are still too immature as Internet devices, which skews the data. For example, NetApps puts iOS usage share of the mobile/tablet segment at 65.94 percent, followed by Android (20.93 percent) and Java ME (8.37 percent). However, depending on the analyst doing the data, Android smartphone share is at least 60 percent globally, which is about the same as iPad in media tablets. However, phone volumes are considerably higher than tablets.

Looked another way: At the end of June cumulative iOS shipments were 410 million, according to Apple. Days before the quarter ended, Google put cumulative Android shipments at 400 million. By that measure, Android and iOS usage share should be about even. The disparity reflects higher web browser usage among iOS device users, skewing the data and making NetApps' mobile usage data unreliable. It's no coincidence that NetApp's mobile browser usage share closely aligns with operating systems: 66.43 percent for Safari and 19.97 percent for Android browser.

The point: It's wise to dismiss reports about how much greater iOS share is than Android. The data isn't yet reliable enough.

Nor is it really reliable for Windows. The difference in usage share is slim, and not every copy of Windows everywhere will be measured by NetApps' methodology. For example, what about pirated XP copies or those used in retail point-of-sale systems that never connect to the Internet? In the real-world analysis, I suspect XP usage still exceeds Windows 7.

But there's no way to know, and NetApps' usage share data is reliable enough to identify a trend and award Microsoft to usage share trophy so long sought from Windows XP.

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