Windows by the numbers: It’s a topsy-turvy world, with Windows 10 down, 7 up

Migration watch: At a time when Windows 7's user share should be falling, and Windows 10 on the rise, Net Applications' data for April shows the opposite.

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Microsoft

The status of both Windows 7 and Windows 10 remained muddled in April, an analytics vendor said this week, with their expected progress - Windows 7 in decline, 10 on the rise - again upended.

According to California-based Net Applications, Windows 7 added more than a tenth of a percentage point of user share - an estimate of the portion of all PCs powered by that operating system - in April, ending the month on 43.6% of the world's PCs and on 49.3% of all systems running a flavor of Windows. (The second number is larger than the first because Windows accounted for 88.4% of all operating systems, not 100%.)

Meanwhile, Windows 10 was flat last month, accounting for 33.8% of all personal computer operating systems and 38.2% of all those running Windows.

Net Applications' latest data resembled that of March, when the metrics company said Windows 10 had dropped by the largest-ever amount and the should-be-disappearing Windows 7 had added the largest amount since the middle of 2015, before Windows 10 appeared.

What in the world is going on?

While it's possible that the numbers reflect a real-world re-adoption of Windows 7 and a retirement of Windows 10 machines, that's unlikely. Instead, the numbers reflect yet another reset on the part of Net Applications, which purged bot traffic from its data in November and repeated the effort more recently, in February.

Both times, Net Applications purged the bot traffic because it muddled the results. "Bots can cause significant skewing of data," Net Applications explained last year. "We have seen situations where traffic from certain large countries is almost completely bot traffic. In other countries, ad fraudsters generate traffic that spoofs certain technologies in order to generate high-value clicks. Or, they heavily favor a particular browser or platform."

As the company hinted, bots are usually deployed by criminals and hucksters, who program the tools to mimic human online behavior for ad click-fraud purposes.

In the end, Net Applications has argued, bot-free data is more accurate because it's a measurement of what real users are doing, not what scammers pretending to be users are doing.

Unlike November's bots-be-gone reset, February's was not kind to Microsoft. Last year's purge dumped a large portion of Windows 7's user share and added to Windows 10's, news that fit with Microsoft's message that customers were rapidly ditching the old and adopting the new. But February's flipped the script.

Basing its forecast on the 12-month average of Windows' trends, Computerworld now estimates that Windows 7 will account for almost 42% of all active Windows editions in January 2020. At that time, Windows 10 should power approximately 56% of all Windows laptop and desktop PCs.

The altered numbers pushed back the cross-over point for Windows 10 - when the newer OS will run a larger percentage of all Windows PCs than the older edition - from December 2018 (using March's numbers) to February 2019. The latest trend line for the two operating systems shows that at the end of this year, just 12 months from Windows 7's retirement, Windows 10 will run 45% of all Windows systems, while Windows 7 will still be on 47%.

Windows 7's refusal to quickly depart now looks not just embarrassing for Microsoft - the company wants to move customers to Windows 10 as soon as possible - but also potentially dangerous.

When Windows XP exited support in April 2014, about 29% of all Windows PCs still ran the retired OS. If Windows 7 is even more prevalent, as the data now signals, there will be a greater chance that hackers will successfully target the unpatched operating system. That will put pressure on Microsoft, much more pressure than it faced with XP, to extend Windows 7 support for corporate customers beyond the current January 2020 deadline. In turn, a support extension would disrupt the move to Windows 10, on which Microsoft has high expectations for delivering steady subscription revenue.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' data, the user share for Apple's macOS rose by two-tenths of a percentage point, to 9.2%, after falling more than a full point in March.

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers people use to visit its clients' websites. It then tallies the visitor sessions - which are effectively visits to the site, with multiple sessions possible daily - rather than count each user a maximum of once per day, as it once did.

The company also accounts for the size of each country's online population to better estimate share in regions where it lacks analytics customers, such as China and India.

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