Windows 8's user share surged last month, while Windows XP's plummeted by a record amount, a metrics company said this weekend.
October's statistics from Net Applications put the combined user share of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 at 16.8% of the world's desktop and notebook systems, an increase of 4.5 percentage points from September. Last month's climb was the largest in the operating system's two-year history and almost equal to its best four-month increase.
Windows 8 accounted for 18.4% of the personal computers running Windows in October, a gain of 5 percentage points from the month before. The difference between the numbers for all personal computers and only those running Windows was due to the fact that Windows powered 91.5% of all personal computers in October, not 100%.
With its stunning growth, Windows 8 blew past the uptake tempo of Windows Vista, the OS that had set the failure benchmark. At the point in Vista's post-release timeline that corresponded to October, the 2007 edition ran on 15.7% of all personal computers and on 16.8% of all Windows PCs. The latter is the most credible comparison, because it accounts for the slightly greater dominance of Windows at the time. (When Vista was in its 24th month after launch, Windows powered 93.7% of all personal computers.)
The increase in Windows 8's user share -- a rough measurement of the number of personal computers running a specific operating system -- came in the first full month after a strong back-to-school sale season wrapped up.
Net Applications data is not authoritative -- the company measures operating system use by tallying browser visitors, then aggressively modifies the numbers to account for countries where it has sparse information -- but if the numbers hold up in future months, October would represent a turning point for the perception-plagued Windows 8.
Ironically, the OS may have finally taken off just months before Microsoft launches its replacement, Windows 10, which is slated to ship mid-2015. Most expect that Microsoft will offer Windows 10 as a free upgrade to consumers with Windows 8- or 8.1-powered devices.
Net Applications also reported a record decline in the over-the-hill Windows XP, which retired from security support in April. Last month, XP accounted for just 17.2% of all personal computers and only 18.8% of those running Windows, lows not seen for the 2001 OS in more than a decade.
Windows XP shed 6.7 percentage points in October, almost twice the previous one-month record loss; even if the decline doesn't continue at that pace, the month contributed mightily to putting XP in its grave. According to Computerworld's dramatically revised projection, Windows XP's user share should reach single digits in the first quarter of 2015.
As with the rise of Windows 8 and 8.1, the dramatic fall of XP was difficult to explain: Businesses have been shedding the OS this year -- and long before -- but even Microsoft has said that laggards' migrations were slowing in the second half of 2014.
Windows 7 remained the most popular operating system by a wide margin, even with the boost to its successor. In October, Windows 7 gained another three-tenths of a percentage point to average 53% of all personal computers for the month, a record high. Windows 7 accounted for 58% of all Windows devices.
Another analytics company, Ireland's StatCounter, posted different numbers for Windows' various editions. StatCounter tapped October's Windows 8 and 8.1 usage share -- unlike Net Applications' statistics, StatCounter's represents how active users of each operating system are on the Web -- at 16.9%, an increase of 1.1 percentage points.
StatCounter's Windows 7 and XP figures were 54.9% and 13.2%, respectively. The latter was down 1.2 percentage points, about one-fifth of the decline measured by its rival Net Applications.