Windows 8.1 market share inches ahead of Windows 8

But three-fourths of desktops still run Windows 7 or Windows XP -- with Windows 7 reaping the benefits as XP's numbers slide

Windows 8.1's market share has finally inched ahead of Windows 8's, according to the May 2014 statistics Netmarket share released yesterday.

But the combined legacy juggernaut of Windows 7 and Windows XP still dwarfs all versions of Windows 8 combined. And it's Windows 7 -- not 8 -- that seems to be gaining most share as XP's numbers continue their downward trickle.

Netmarket's statistics over the past five months show the market share for all versions of Windows 8 has only gone up 2.08 percent, but most new 8.1 users don't seem to be upgrading from Windows 8. While Windows 8.1's user base has increased 2.35 percent, Windows 8's has lost a mere 0.27 percent. That's a sign most new 8.1 users are coming onboard via a new device purchase or an upgrade from an earlier version of Windows, rather than via an upgrade to an existing Windows 8 system.

The most likely source for those upgrading from an earlier version of Windows is former XP users -- although at the current rate of attrition, it'll be at least another two years before XP is off the charts completely. Since January, XP has lost around 4 percent of its existing user base, with Windows 7 gaining 2.6 percent. Some of that movement can be chalked up to corporate PC deployments switching to Windows 7, which is still available via Microsoft's volume licensing programs. Retail sales for Win7 ended in October 2013, and OEM sales to PC makers will end in October 2014.

The incentives for upgrading to Windows 8.1 are more appetizing for Windows 8 users than for users of Windows 7 or XP. The 8.1 update is less ornery than Windows 8 for those users still on mouse-and-keyboard driven systems, though it still puts touch first. Users on desktops, where touch is a losing proposition (except maybe for all-in-one PCs), still have little incentive to make the jump. A great many other possible changes, such as those explored in InfoWorld's Windows Red reimagining of Windows 8, went unimplemented.

Another possible blow to increased Windows 8.1 adoption is that a new version of the classic Start menu, a widely anticipated feature, likely won't show up until 2015, according to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley. By that time, the next full-point revision of Windows is slated to make its appearance -- and potential migrators may simply decide to follow the lessons of history (read: Windows Vista) and skip the Windows 8 generation altogether.

This story, "Windows 8.1 market share inches ahead of Windows 8," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.