Net Applications reports that global usage of Microsoft's venerable Windows XP operating system has declined 11 percentage points since February of last year. According to the Web metrics firm's latest data, Windows XP held a 46.52 percent share of the online PC market at the end of 2011.
The majority of users who upgraded from XP last year are now running Windows 7 on their desktop PCs, notebooks and netbooks. Windows 7 accounted for 37 percent of global market share at the end of December -- a rise of 13 percentage points from February 2011.
Net Applications Executive Vice President Vince Vizzaccaro believes XP's declining percentage is great to see. However, he noted that the change is probably not happening fast enough from the point of view of Microsoft's own efforts to upgrade Internet Explorer as well as software developers committed to the latest HTML5-compatible application designs.
"I do believe Microsoft's strategy to focus their browser efforts on the more advanced operating systems has merit," Vizzaccaro said. "It could be argued that anyone still using XP is more likely to continue to use IE6, even if the latest IE versions were made available for XP."
The Netbook Factor
One reason for the steady decline in Windows XP's market share is falling netbook unit sales, many of which had shipped with Windows XP. According to DisplaySearch, netbooks accounted for approximately 20 percent of all laptop shipments worldwide from the fourth quarter of 2008 through the second quarter of 2010.
Following the successful launch of Apple's first iPad in the first half of 2010, however, mini-notebook sales began to slip. By the first quarter of 2011, mini-notebook shipments had declined by 12.2 percent year over year, according to Gartner.
Still, the 37 percent market share reported by Net Applications falls short of Gartner's prediction last August that Windows 7 would be running on nearly 635 million new PCs worldwide by the end of 2011 -- equivalent to a global market share of 42 percent. Though many enterprises have moved rapidly to embrace Windows 7, a significant number of consumers are reluctant to abandon XP.
"For older buyers, today's PCs are not a particularly compelling product, so they continue to extend lifetimes," said Ranjit Atwal, a research director at Gartner.
Leading a Shrinking Market
Though Windows 7 has been gaining OS market share on desktops, laptops and netbooks, these conventional computing form factors no longer constitute the entire online computing market. Net Applications reports that tablets and smartphones now account for 7.7 percent of all computing devices connected to the Internet on a global basis -- a category in which Windows has yet to gain any significant traction.
Net Applications currently includes media tablets in its mobile grouping whenever they are identifiable. By the time Windows 8 arrives, however, the data metrics firm will be able to more closely gauge the impact that tablets are having on the computing industry overall.
"We will soon be having a separate tablet group that will clarify the separate markets even better," Vizzaccaro said.
Microsoft's ability to maintain its domination of the OS computing market over the long haul will hinge on the ability of its Windows Phone and forthcoming Windows 8 OS platforms to capture significant shares of the mobile computing market. One huge challenge for Microsoft is to ensure that Windows 8 is able to capture the interest of younger mobile device users as a tablet OS.
"Generation Y has an altogether different view of client devices than older generations and are not buying PCs as their first, or necessarily main, device," Atwal said.