Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) intends to release Windows 9 in April 2015, about one year from now, perhaps to appease the masses that have revolted against Windows 8. For all its failings, Windows 8 is perhaps the most maligned Windows OS in recent history. It has been labeled an unmitigated disaster both from an end-user viewpoint and from Microsoft's perspective in terms of adoption rates.
But according to a recent NetMarketShare study, Windows 8 has a 6.38% market share, almost double the market share for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Mac OSX 10.9 with 3.48%, although the latter has only been around for just six months. Windows 7 has the lion's share of the market with 47.31%.
Windows 8 adoption rate not as bad as feared
There is no denying that Microsoft bet the farm by developing an OS targeted at both touchscreen devices and the traditional desktop. The result? Windows 8 is not perfectly suited for either platform, and desktop users in particular find it needlessly difficult to use.
Microsoft recently released data that showed that it had sold over 200 million Windows 8 licenses. Windows 8 is now about 19 months old since its release in August 2012. By the time Windows 7 had been in the market that long, Microsoft had managed to sell 240 million licenses for the OS. But let's not forget that PC sales have been steadily declining, with shipments falling a jaw-dropping 10.3% last year. Most Windows OS purchases are tied to new PC purchases.
During the period that Microsoft sold 240 million Windows 7 licenses, 350 million PCs were shipped worldwide. That works out to about 68 licenses for every 100 PCs sold. In comparison, 314 million PCs were sold during the period that Microsoft sold 200 million Windows 8 licenses. That works out to 63 licenses for every 100 PCs sold. While that might not be on an equal footing with Windows 7, it's much better than the 55 licenses per 100 PCs for Windows XP, or 37 PCs for every 100 PCs sold that Windows Vista recorded, in a similar time span.
Exit of Windows XP creates room for Windows 9
Microsoft plans to withdraw support for Windows XP in April this year. A study done by TechProearly this year showed that 37% of Windows XP users plan to continue using the OS even after Microsoft withdraws its support.
As we have seen, the adoption rate of Windows 8 has not been as dismal as many have been led to believe. Windows 8.1, an improvement on Windows 8, is already being touted as being significantly better than the highly popular Windows 7. It's said to be faster, more stable, and sports some useful extra features such as the improved Task Manager, Storage Spaces and Windows Explorer. Additionally, users can choose to use it like Windows 7, or use it as a touchscreen OS.
Just five months after its release, Windows 8.1 has garnered quite a following, and now commands a 4.3% share of the market. But the snowball effect that made Windows 8 so unpopular, and its association with it, has probably discouraged many potential users from trying it out.
Microsoft is likely to pick some useful lessons from both Windows 8 and 8.1, and use them to offer a better product when it finally releases Windows 9. For the 38% Windows XP users who plan to upgrade to Windows 7, the availability of a newer version of Windows in the form of Windows 9, without the complexities of Windows 8, will quite likely lure them to give it a try.
Microsoft unlikely to give Windows for free
Unlike Microsoft which has been having a slog trying to get its Windows users to upgrade to newer Windows versions, Apple has no such difficulty. As of January this year, 80% of eligible Apple devices had upgraded to iOS 7, just four months after its release. Cost is probably a major limiting factor since Apple charges just $30 for users to move a tier higher, compared to Microsoft's $100 or more. Apple even offers Mac OS, Mac OS X 10.9, aka Mavericks, free.
Despite the difficulty Microsoft has been experiencing migrating its users from older Windows platforms, it's highly unlikely that it will go the Apple route and offer free Windows upgrades in the future. The Windows XP study revealed 37% of Windows XP users do not intend to upgrade. For this group, only 21% cited cost as the reason they intend to stay put. For the other 79%, lowering the cost of newer Windows OSs, or even giving them away for free might not be enough reason for them to move.
Windows 8.1 is already being hailed as significantly better than its immediate predecessors, which proves that Microsoft has integrated the lessons it has learnt from the Windows 8 failure when building the product. It's only logical to expect Windows 9 to be even better than that.
Joseph Gacinga has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. It also owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.