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Windows 8 still as big a flop as Vista

By John Rizzo

Windows 8 has reached 10% worldwide market share, according to one analyst firm. This doesn't mean that Windows is no longer a market flop on the level of Windows Vista, as I described last April. The adoption rate is of Windows 8 nearly identical to that of Vista, as PC users still see it as a lemon.

By March of 2013, only 2.67% of the world's PCs were running Windows 8, according to Net Applications. This was after five months of sales. But in Vista's fifth month of sales, Vista had a 4.52% market share. A few months later in August, the tenth month of sales, Windows 8 caught up to Vista's in the tenth month.

In the graph I put together below, Windows 8 appears to be ahead of where Vista was at the same place in its product cycle. Net Application's numbers for December 2013 have Windows 8 at 10.49%, while Vista was at 9.15% at 14 months after launch. It took Vista another two more months to get to 10%. On this basis, one could say that Windows 8 is not longer as big a flop as Vista.

But to say that Windows 8 has turned a corner in market acceptance is ignore what success looks like. When you add Windows 7 to the chart (below), the market acceptance lines for Windows 8 and Vista are dwarfed, appearing almost identical. Windows 7 at 14 months had 20.9% market share, twice as much as Windows 8/8.1 has now. Windows 7 passed the 10% milestone in just 5 months, a little over one third of the time it took Windows 8 to get there. Compared to Windows 7, Windows 8 and Vista are essentially equal failures in the marketplace. Microsoft has managed to roll out an Edsel, not once, but twice in five years.

It's interesting to compare the failure of Windows 8 to the market acceptance of OS X on Macs. In the globally installed base of personal computers, the Mac as a hardware platform remains a niche, with 7.54% of personal computers running OS X. But among the installed base of Macs, Apple has had success with the adoption of new OS's since the late 1990's. For instance, OS X 10.9 Mavericks passed the 10% milestone (of the population of Macs) not in 5 months, but in 5 days.

According to Net Applications, 37% of Macs now run OS X 10.9. And 59% of Macs now run either OS X 10.9 or OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, which was released about the same time as Windows 8.

Setting aside the factor that most users and critics don't really like Windows 8, there is another big difference between it and Mavericks: Windows 8 costs up to $200; Mavericks is free. Chrome OS, a direct competitor to Windows on the PC platform, is also free.

Lowering the price of Windows might help, but getting something for nothing is a big motivator for adoption. Apple's OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion cost only $20. It took a month to reach 10% adoption among Mac uses—four times longer than the free Mavericks.

Windows 8.1 doesn't help, but Windows is on the Threshhold

Last April, I predicted that the release of the then-preliminary Windows Blue, which turned into Windows 8.1, would not change the fact that Windows 8 is a flop. Since then, Windows 8 has gone from being adopted at slightly worse rate than Vista to a slightly better rate.

Looking again at the chart, what seems to have happened is that the anticipation of Windows 8.1 caused a slight increase in adoption. It turned out to be more of a bump than a surge. By the ship date of October 17 (month 12), adoption had slowed again, with another small bump that brought the rate of adoption back up to Vista levels a few weeks later.

The next update is slated for an update on March 11 (as reported by Mary Jo Foley at ZDnet). Window 8.1 Update 1 will. Expected are some under-the-hood improvements such as reduced battery usage and new user enhancements such as the ability to better use a mouse in the Metro interface. Welcome advances, but not enough to turn a Vista-like flop into a success.

At this point, the vast majority of PC users holding onto Windows 7 (and even Windows XP) are waiting for Windows 9, which is now codenamed "Threshhold."

There's not much to go on right as to what Windows 9 will be like. However, it will need to give users and businesses a compelling reason to switch from Windows 7. Windows 8 is more about satisfying Microsoft's needs then business PC users needs. It's about a strategy for breaking into the phone a tablet markets, which is not an easy task dominated by Apple and Google. Windows 8 on PCs doesn't seem all that important to Microsoft, and it certainly isn't for users, either. Windows 9 will need to change that.

The rumor mill speculates on a 2015 release date for Windows 9. Until then, Windows 8 will limp along like an Edsel with a leaky gasket.