Operating System Market Share October 2012

As I watch New York City attempt to recover from Hurricane Sandy and think about business change, I’m more aware than ever about perception and reality. The most difficult challenge I’ve had to overcome this week is the lack of fresh bread in my neighborhood. I’m grateful, and walking around the Upper East Side of Manhattan I’ve run into quite a few people who “get it” better than I might have guessed. I’m grateful for that, too.

On the other hand, as electricity, mass transit, and other services slowly find their way back on-line in the harder-hit areas, it’s hard not to be struck by the number of people who lined up this morning to buy an iPad Mini even as others are unable to procure gasoline for their cars or home generators. Really? You need that toy so badly?

Of course, life does carry on during and after disasters, and tablets like the iPad Mini “matter” in their way. But the question that I find more and more interesting as the way we use computers evolve is what makes people make the specific choices they make?

The chart at the top of this piece shows market share, sorted by operating system, of the computers people are using today. With the exception of iOS (iPhone/iPad) having claimed 6% of the market and Android having grabbed another 3%, what it shows (please trust me on the historical part of this) is that Windows has lost share over the last ten years or so, and proportionally Macintosh has done even worse; formerly it was Windows at about 91% and Macintosh at 9%, with no other operating system even registering high enough to count.

Because of that whole perception/reality thing,  these numbers can also be read as “Apple used to have nine percent of the total market and now they have twelve”, which makes for a significant net gain while Windows has lost share. That’s fine, and speaks to how easy it is to make statistics say whatever you want them to say. What I see, though, is that Microsoft has managed, even as everything their business was built on falls down around them, to hold onto an 82% market share for all computing devices.

Bringing me to tablets, and Windows 8.

Windows 8 has been out for a week. I’ve played with it a bit, and I pretty much hate it. I don’t care for those tile thingies on the home screen. I don’t like that Microsoft has redesigned how the ubiquitous mouse works. In short, I find Windows 8 to be clumsy.

But because support for Windows XP, which I’ve steadfastly held onto on all of my computers except one is ending soon I need to move forward, so Windows 8 is in my future unless I’m ready to jump ship altogether. Well, I’m not going Apple and I like Linux fine but it lacks support for a lot of things that matter to me, so . . . Windows 8 it is.

But what does that really mean?

Honestly, it comes down to a conversation about Influency* ™. Microsoft, via Windows, is in the best position of anyone to roll everything together into a nice neat package that works (almost) the same whether you’re using a computer, a tablet, or a SmartPhone. That new Windows 8 interface looks and works almost the same on every device. Microsoft, I applaud you.

But I stop right there.

I like my Android phone and tablet. I’m not switching either. Microsoft took too long to pull the Windows 8 one-size-fits-all-if-not-perfectly approach together. And I’m eyeing the Google Chromebook, so Microsoft could be on the way to losing me on the computer front, too. But Windows 8 on every device is an attractive package for people who resist change and value consistency even if the consistency is an illusion.

Microsoft has been illustrating small pieces of their business change strategy for a couple of years. I don’t believe anything has come of the Microsoft Battery Initiative, and certainly Microsoft overpaid for their share of Nook, especially since their own tablet was on the way. But make no mistake: love it or hate it, the business change behind Windows 8 represents Microsoft fighting their way back from irrelevancy.

But it will only work if Microsoft can figure out how to do marketing.

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