When Internet market analytics firm NetMarketshare released its desktop operating system report for September, it yielded up a surprising statistic: Windows 7 experienced slightly better growth for the month than Windows 8 did.
It's further evidence of how confused and confusing the desktop market is -- not just in terms of its imploding growth, thanks to tablets and phones devouring the underbelly of its market share, but also because of how tough it can be to gather unbiased third-party stats about OS usage.
NetMarketshare's latest tally showed Windows 8 at 8.02 percent of desktop market share and Windows 7 at 46.43 percent. Both OSes increased their usage in September, but Windows 8's growth slowed after a major jump in August.
Since its release at the end of October 2012, Windows 8 has gained on average 0.69 percent market share each month, with the biggest leap coming in August when it gained 2.01 percent. In September, Windows 8's growth slowed to a mere 0.61 percent, while Windows 7 market share -- which had hovered at around 44 percent since Januaryand leapt to 45.63 percent in August -- grew 0.8 percent in September.
Some of the discrepancies in Windows 8's gains may just be sampling noise, due to the way different firms harvest their stats. StatCounter, for instance, uses unweighted data based on page views rather than unique visitors (for the sake of teasing out usage of different browsers on the same system), as opposed to NetMarketshare's harvesting from HitsLink Analytics and SharePost clients.
Consequently, StatCounter's methods reported Windows 7 and Windows 8 market shares for September at 51.98 percent and 7.46 percent, respectively. It also registered far less of a jump in growth for Windows 8 over the summer than NetMarketshare did. (W3Counter and W3Schools did not yet have September statistics as of this writing.)
PC operating system growth has been generally slow due to the desktop system market remaining soft, even during the typically lucrative back-to-school season. A growing number of students are opting for tablets rather than notebook PCs or desktops, especially as a way to access course materials.
It's not likely that Windows 8's slowing growth is due to adopters choosing to wait for Windows 8.1, as Microsoft plans to deliver that OS both as a stand-alone product and as a free upgrade to existing Windows 8 users.
One clear loser in Windows marketshare is Windows XP. NetMarketshare shows the venerable OS plummeting from 37.19 percent market share in July down to 31.41 percent at the end of September. Microsoft is still sticking to its schedule of delivering no more security updates for XP by April 2014, but historically, XP systems have been slow to die. The last two months' rate of decline would have to be sustained all the way through next year in order for there to be no XP desktops at all by April.
InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard observed earlier this year that analysts, in defiance of all evidence to the contrary, predicted the PC market would rebound as XP's end-of-life forced the replacement of many legacy systems. Those predictions ignored all the uncertainty that's come into the PC market of late. What if those retired XP systems are replaced with non-Windows tablets, or with nothing at all?
Small wonder, then, how even the most incremental fluctuations in OS market share can seem significant.
This story, "Windows 7 growing slightly faster than Windows 8," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. 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 InfoWorld.com on Twitter.