Windows 8 Momentum Sputters

Apr 01, 2013 (11:04 AM EDT)

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Windows 8 adoption continued to rise in March, according to the latest findings released by Internet market share consultant Net Applications. Nonetheless, Windows 8's momentum has sputtered since its unexceptional debut.

No clear catalysts for growth are looming this month, so modest gains could continue for the immediate future. Microsoft is readying Windows Blue, its first major Windows 8 upgrade, however, and also has launched new campaigns to attract app developers. The company hopes these efforts and an upcoming wave of new tablets and PCs will revitalize interest throughout the summer and fall.

Windows 8 amassed a 3.17% market share in March, up from 2.67% in February, said Net Applications. Although the uptick represents progress, Windows 8's gains still trail what Windows 7 had achieved by the same time. What's more, Microsoft's touch-oriented OS has been slowing down. After launching at the end of October, Windows 8 adoption increased 57.8% between November and December, before dropping to 31.4% between December and January and 18.1% between January and February. March's growth rate of 18.7% will likely do little to silence the OS's critics but it at least stemmed what had been precipitous month-over-month declines in momentum.

The Net Applications stats generally agree with those published by StatCounter, another service that tracks OS popularity. StatCounter paints a slightly rosier picture for Windows 8, asserting that the new OS has snared 3.9% of the OS field, a 23.4% improvement relative to February. However, StatCounter also says Windows 8's adoption rate is dwindling and that the OS's most recent uptick was its smallest yet.

[ InformationWeek reporter Kevin Casey is not impressed by Windows Blue. Read Tell Me Again: Why Rush Into Windows 8? ]

Net Applications draws its figures from 40,000 websites and 160,000 unique visitors. StatCounter, in contrast, analyzes around 15 billion page views but does not consider the number of individual users.

Regardless of accounting differences, Windows 8's growth so far does not seem to have benefited much from the declining appeal of aging alternatives. Indeed, Windows 7 doesn't seem to be losing ground to its newest singling. It has topped the Net Application rankings since August, when it surpassed Windows XP. Although Windows 7's market share dipped to 44.48% in January after crossing 45% for the first time in December, it has since rebounded to a 44.73% share. It has actually expanded its grasp, albeit marginally, since Windows 8 went on sale.

Windows XP, meanwhile, dropped from 39.82% in November to 38.73% in March, suggesting Windows 8 might be gaining at XP's expense. Some Windows Vista users have also evidently switched OSes in recent months -- the unpopular Vista contracted from 5.7% of the market in November to just under 5% in March. Mac OS 10.8, the newest version of Apple's platform, controlled a relatively small 2.65% of the field in March. Even so, it also has gained users since Windows 8 launched.

In many ways, Windows 8's continued struggles are not surprising. Enterprises are still heavily invested in Windows 7, making it unlikely that cash-strapped IT departments would push for Microsoft's newest wares. Although Windows 8's mobile-friendly interface might justify some business uses, the OS is most useful when coupled with new hardware, making its immediate adoption among businesses all the more cost-prohibitive.

To an extent, soft enterprise sales were foreseeable, even before Windows 8 launched. The platform's struggles among consumers have been a bit more surprising. Given that discounted Windows 8 licenses are no longer available and that the first round of touch-oriented ultrabooks and Surface products failed to inspire consumer enthusiasm, Microsoft hopes to re-energize its new OS in coming months with Windows Blue, an alleged push for more cheap 7-inch tablets, a more competitive app catalogue, and ultrabooks powered by Intel's upcoming Haswell chips, which are expected to deliver tablet-like battery life without skimping on processing power. These developments should restore some of Windows 8's lost momentum -- but the question remains: by how much?

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