The truth about Windows users

Think you know what PC users actually do and what they use? New benchmarks paint a surprising picture of real-world computer usage

We all know that Windows Vista has been a flop, despite Microsoft's claims. Even Microsoft's Vista deployment statistics are suspect, as the company counts every new PC sale as a Vista sale, even in enterprises with site licenses that allow them to run any version of Windows, a practice undertaken at many businesses, as InfoWorld and others have noted. But how suspect? Thanks to real-world PC usage data from the exo.performance.network, we now know.

As it turns out, two years after Vista's release not even 30 percent of PCs actually run it. And those that do are almost exclusively the Home Premium version, meaning that Vista is employed mainly by home users who likely got Vista preinstalled on a new PC.

[ Keep up with real-world Windows usage trends at InfoWorld's Windows Pulse page, and monitor your own PCs with InfoWorld's free Windows Sentinel tool. ]

The chart below shows the current data compiled by the exo.performance.network, a community-based monitoring tool that receives real-time data from about 10,000 PCs throughout the world, 25 percent of which are situated in larger business environments. The tool tracks what PCs people actually use, their specific configurations, the applications they run, and so on. The data is anonymized to keep the information private, then aggregated to produce a wide range of reports on what PC owners actually use, providing an ongoing real-world snapshot of the state of Windows.

[ If the chart is not visible, see it in the original story at InfoWorld.com. ]

Anyone can follow the key PC usage trends with regularly updated chart widgets at InfoWorld's Windows Pulse page, which pulls in data from the exo.performance.network run by Devil Mountain Software. (DMS president Randall C. Kennedy is an InfoWorld contributor and author of the popular Enterprise Desktop blog.) Users can add their PCs to the exo.performance.network -- and get free tools to monitor their own PCs -- through InfoWorld's Windows Sentinel tool.

Other surprising findings from the exo.performance.network include the following:

  • Internet Explorer's hidden stronghold. Measurements of browser adoption by firms such as Net Applications measure public Internet use. But they don't measure internal browser traffic on company intranets, Kennedy notes. Many of these inside-the-wall applications require Internet Explorer, a fact that the exo.performance.network data has revealed, as 85 percent of enterprise Windows users run IE for at least four hours a day. Thus, though Firefox is creeping up on IE in the public domain, Microsoft's browser continues to remain the standard option for most internal Web traffic.
  • Office 2007 is now the dominant productivity suite for enterprise Windows users. This statistic comes as a surprise given the criticism Office 2007 has received over its new Scenic Ribbon UI. Despite that controversy, nearly 35 percent of Windows PCs now run some variant of Office 2007.
  • OpenOffice.org is making inroads. The open source productivity suite has captured nearly 13 percent of Windows PCs sampled by the exo.performance.network.
  • PC users have the right stuff for Windows 7. Beyond the interface complaints, one reason cited for Vista's slow adoption has been that most people needed new PCs to run it. Windows 7's resource requirements are the same, and it is optimized further for running on multicore systems. Are PC users really ready to run Windows 7 when it ships on Oct. 22? The answer, Kennedy notes, is yes. The exo.performance.network data shows that systems with 2GB to 3GB of RAM are now the norm, and that multicore CPUs are present in nearly 60 percent of all PCs. This is good news for Microsoft, given that InfoWorld's testing has shown that Windows 7 works best on multicore CPUs. Also, Intel continues to dominate the installed base of PCs for both CPUs (used in 71 percent of PCs) and graphics processors (used in 45 percent of PCs).

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