Microsoft's happy announcement about the Windows licences sold in the new OS's 18 months need some context. The results may surprise you
Microsoft has announced that it has sold 350m Windows 7 licences in its first 18 months on the market. This of course comes with the moniker of "fastest-selling ever PC OS" because of course the actual numbers sold are far more than previous ones:
Todd Bishop, over at Geekwire, had the bright idea of asking whether that was a little or a lot proportional to the number of PCs sold, since of course the question isn't really how many numbers are being sold in an absolute sense, but how they compare in context.
As he points out, Gartner's and IDC's numbers for that period suggest 523m and 517m PCs shipped (they use slightly different methodologies for counting shipments, hence the difference).
That means that compared to the number of PCs shipped it's easy to calculate:
Windows 7 licences are 67% of PC shipments in its first 18 months based on the average of the two.
Next, to Windows Vista: according to a regulatory filing, Vista had sold 180m licences (page 23) by the 18-month point.
Gartner says 416m, IDC says 398m shipments in that period; from the average,
Windows Vista licences were 44% of PC shipments in its first 18 months.
That's a long way down. But here's where Bishop runs aground: how does that compare to Windows XP? What are the PC numbers and what are the XP figures? He couldn't find them.
But we can, and we're glad to help.
There isn't an 18-month number, but Microsoft announced in July 2003 that there were 130m XP licences sold (of which 70%, incidentally, were XP Professional). It seems like a safe bet to say that it was tied to the end of the shipping quarter at the end of June, so that means that the period covered is Q4 2001 (XP launched in October 2001, though it was being included in some machines before that official launch period) and Q2 2003, the April-June period just before that announcement.
OK, and what are the PC shipment figures for Q401-Q203? Gartner: 244m; IDC 241.5m.
Taking the average, and calculating the ratio, we get that
Windows XP licences were 54% of PC shipments in its first 18 months.
So we can conclude that yes indeed, Windows 7 is indeed the fastest-selling PC OS ever. (In the absence of figures for Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows ME, though the latter two are really unlikely to be in there.) Congratulations, Windows 7.
Just to show those numbers again: for the first 18 (21 months for XP), the ratios are: Windows 7 67%, Vista 44%, XP 54%.
But now here's the nub: why? Why is Windows 7 doing even better than XP, which at the time looked like a rocket?
I suspect there are three things going on here.
• XP's share in its first 18 months will have been held down because businesses buying PCs may well have been sticking with Windows 2000, the "business" OS, rather than getting XP Pro.
• initially I thought that Vista's share in its first 18 months - which covers the period to the middle of 2008 - was being hit by netbooks (which started off with Linux and then Windows XP). But netbooks didn't really start selling until 3Q 08, and even then only about 5m in a quarter where about 78m (average of Gartner and IDC) PCs were shipped. So netbooks aren't the answer to Vista's low number. It looks instead like it really was down to corporations choosing not to have Vista, and opting for XP licences instead.
• Windows 7 runs on netbooks as well as "standard" PCs, so that with the netbook market counting for some tens of millions of machines per quarter, it's getting the benefit of them all. And far fewer businesses are downgrading to XP or Vista.
Yet even with this said, XP remains one of the most-used operating systems out there, nearly 10 years after its introduction. It's really out of date, and though it has had some significant security upgrades, it really isn't a patch (ha) on Windows 7. If you're wondering whether to upgrade from XP, it has to be said that Windows 7 offers a much more secure environment - and that it can still run XP programs in an emulation mode.