Double standard: Why Apple can force upgrades but Microsoft can't

Ironically, Microsoft's compatibility commitment has boomeranged, making it easy for users to keep what they have

Microsoft's 13-year-old Windows XP won't go away, as much as Microsoft tries to cajole and threaten users to abandon XP. In fact, it's the second-most-used version of Windows today (at 34 percent of users), though three versions of Windows shipped after it. Contrast that to OS X; its oldest version in widespread use (Snow Leopard, at 19 percent of users) is not even five years old, and the version released last fall (Mavericks) already has 48 percent of the Mac user base. By comparison, Windows 8 is at only about 4 percent of the Windows user base.

Let me fill you in on a secret: The reason that people avoid upgrading Windows but not OS X has nothing to do with one platform being better or worse than the other, Windows 8 notwithstanding. It's about a fundamental decision both companies made nearly 30 years ago that has largely served them well but has aliso led to the upgrade split they have today.

[ Want a new PC but not Windows 8? Our picks for the best 12 Windows 7 PCs still available. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today. ]

Double standard: Why Apple can force upgrades but Microsoft can't
Source: Net Applications

Today, as Microsoft's April cutoff for Windows XP support nears, people are begging for yet another extension, and Microsoft is reeling from the loud demand. Its customers seem determined to run XP forever, thwarting Microsoft's desire to modernize the PC. Although nearly a fifth of Apple users cling to Snow Leopard (mostly on old systems that can't run a newer OS X version), the Mac user base by and large moves forward with Apple.

You can see the breakdown in the chart above: As of December 2013, two months after its release, nearly half of Mac users were running OS X 10.9 Mavericks, while as of February 2014, 16 months after its release, only 9 percent of Windows users were running Windows 8.x.

To be clear, the Net Applications data here is biased in favor of Internet-attached PCs in Western countries. It's estimated there are at least as many PCs running pirated copies of XP in countries like China and India than there are in the West. The actual XP percentage is likely twice what's shown here, with the other Windows versions reduced proportionally. There's also a sizable but unknown number of non-Internet connected PCs used as instrumentation systems and the like that Net Applications also doesn't count, most of which are believed to be running XP -- further increasing XP's actual percentage.

Regardless of the true XP numbers, the pattern is quite clear. What is it that causes Windows users to cling to ancient versions of Windows?

1 2 3 4 Page 1