Is the bell tolling for Windows XP?

Microsoft's decade-old OS officially hits minority status by slipping below 50 percent market share for the first time

Microsoft's Windows XP has slipped under the 50 percent share mark for the first time since Web measurement company Net Applications began tracking operating system usage.

The decade-old XP closed July with 49.8 percent, a 1.3-percentage point drop from June, Net Applications said today. Although XP still powers a majority of Windows machines, July's decline means it has lost its majority status among all operating systems.

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Other metrics firms marked an earlier fall for XP. The Irish company StatCounter, for instance, said that the OS slipped under 50 percent last January. But unlike that rival, Net Applications' methodology weights its data by country to more accurately reflect use in countries like China, which produces relatively little data for Western measurements but has a huge pool of PC users.

StatCounter pegged XP's usage share at 43.9 percent in July.

The fall of XP has been gradual but still striking. In the last year, Windows XP's usage share as measured by Net Applications has plummeted more than 12 percentage points. Just two years ago, and several months before the launch of Windows 7, XP accounted for nearly three-out-of-four operating systems whose systems went online.

Although Microsoft did not note that XP slid below 50 percent last month, one would assume it's happy.

The company has been putting the squeeze on Windows XP users of late, reminding them that the OS will be retired in less than three years and telling them, "It's time to move on." The implied message: Upgrade to Windows 7 as soon as possible.

The aggressive promotion of Windows 7, coupled with XP's looming retirement, seem to have hit home. In the last two months, XP's share dropped 2.6 percentage points, the biggest 60-day decline since December 2010-January 2011, technology's typically-strong holiday selling season, when Windows 7 PCs sold briskly.

Today, Microsoft kept up the dump-XP drumbeat.

In a post on the Internet Explorer (IE) team's blog, Roger Capriotti, the head of marketing for Microsoft's browser, said of the even-older IE6, "With end of life for IE6 and Windows XP rapidly approaching, we expect [IE6's] drop in share to continue. It's great to see that the move of businesses off Windows XP and IE6 is helping to drive a worldwide drop in IE6 share."

Capriotti's use of the phrase "rapidly approaching" to describe XP's and IE6's retirement may be premature: Microsoft will serve up security updates for the operating system and that browser through April 2014.

It's clear that XP's fall has corresponded to Windows 7's climb.

According to Net Applications, Windows 7 finished July with a 27.9 percent global usage share, an increase of seven-tenths of a percentage point over June. In the last year, Windows 7 has gained 13.4 points, more than making up for the 12-point decline of XP.

If XP continues the pace of the last three months, the OS will drop to 40 percent by the end of the first quarter in 2012, when Windows 7 is projected to reach 35 percent. The two should cross paths by the middle of next year.

Projections of future usage share show Windows 7 will supplant XP as Microsoft's most-used edition by mid-2012. (Data: Net Applications.)

But with Windows 8 expected sometime in 2012 -- speculation on its release date has swung from the spring to the early fall -- Windows 7's moment in the spotlight may be brief. Assuming a third-quarter ship date for Windows 8 to match that of its predecessor, Windows 7 will top out at around 41 percent before its share starts to slide as consumers adopt the newest operating system.

Not that those projections are sacrosanct.

In June, one analyst said that it was possible corporations -- whose purchases of new Windows 7 computers has been the only thing keeping the PC industry from negative growth numbers -- would skip Windows 8 , just as they did Vista, and concentrate on Windows 7.

That take dovetails with Microsoft's own recommendation. After the company unveiled parts of Windows 8 at a pair of technology conferences six weeks ago, it urged enterprises now deploying Windows 7 to stick with their plans.

But no matter how the future plays out, Microsoft's three-year release cycle for Windows means that XP will probably be the last edition to power an overwhelming majority of the world's PCs. The release schedule would prevent a duplication of the five-year lag between Windows XP's release in 2001 and Vista's debut in late 2006, one of the factors usually cited to explain XP's large-scale and long-term dominance.

Net Applications calculates operating system usage share with data obtained from more than 160 million unique visitors who browse 40,000 Web sites that the company monitors for clients. More OS statistics can be found on the company's site.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.
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This story, "Is the bell tolling for Windows XP?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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