Windows 8.1 keeps climbing, at its own rate

Windows 8.1's adoption rate parallels Windows XP's numbers, but Windows 7 leaves both in the dust

How successfully has Windows 8.1 lured Windows users? If you already run Windows 8, pretty successful. If you're running anything else, not so much.

In the last three months, Windows 8.1 has enjoyed a modest bump in usage at the expense of existing Windows 8 licenses. While growth of Windows 8 as a whole has remained on the low end of what Microsoft has experienced for its OSes, it hasn't been uncommon for the first year of any new Windows release to be a slow mover.

First, the intra-Windows 8 upgrade stats: According to numbers crunched by Ed Bott at ZDNet, with statistics provided by NetMarketShare, Windows 8 users upgraded to Windows 8.1 at a rate of something like 30 percent in the last month or so. Back in September, when Windows 8.1 rolled out, all versions of Windows 8 commanded some 9 percent of the desktop market. That total number has only grown to about 9.3 percent as of November.

In other words, while Windows 8.1 has been good for existing Windows 8 users (barring upgrades that crash the machine entirely), it hasn't driven sales of Windows 8 -- or Windows -- in the way Microsoft has clearly hoped it would.

History repeating itself

Here's the bigger question: How does this rate of adoption compare with previous versions of Windows? Not as badly as it might seem, it turns out.

Back in 2002, Computer Reseller News reported that XP adoption rates, one year on from its release, were "less than 10 percent." That puts Windows 8 at around -- get ready -- the same pace of adoption Windows XP enjoyed in its heyday.

It's almost quaint to read that CRN piece now and see phrases like "I've not had a single client that wanted to upgrade from any previous version to XP," then look at XP in 2013, still hanging in with a gargantuan installed base despite its imminent end of life. (XP's losses have actually been flattening over the past three months, from 31.42 percent down only to 31.22 percent.)

How did Windows 7 do in its time? According to NetMarketShare, Windows 7 clocked around a 14.5 percent usage share in its first year of release -- much better than XP or 8, but hey, that was 7, which is still the most popular version of Windows around (for good reason).

If Windows 8 is still lagging at 15 percent or so this time next year, that'll be bad news, even with PC sales being cannibalized by other form factors. Granted, comparing Windows 8 and Windows XP is an apples-to-kumquats exercise, but the changes in demographics aren't wholly out of line with what Windows -- and successful versions of Windows, at that -- have experienced before.

The rest of the story

Other aspects of the stats are also intriguing. Windows 7 has actually ticked upward n the last couple of months, from 46.39 to 46.64 percent. That's one possible sign that older, existing Windows 7 machines are getting used that much more and newer Windows 8 ones being used that much less.

Another hint of how Windows 8 remains a desktop OS, at least in the minds of its users, is the slow growth of app movement from the Windows Store. The number of apps added to the store has slumped since earlier in the year, and the number of downloads from the store hasn't tracked the actual number of Windows 8 installations out there, provoking the theory that most Windows 8 users are sticking with the desktop or only using the app store in the most diffident way.

It's still unlikely Windows 8 will displace Windows 7, or even XP, in the year to come. But even without displacing either of those OSes, it's still possible for Windows 8 to make a more than decent showing during its lifetime.

This article, "Windows 8.1 keeps climbing, at its own rate," 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 business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.