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What Does Desktop Marketshare Tell Us Anymore?

A quick peek at the latest desktop operating system market share pie graph from shows that Windows continues to dominate, with a least a 86 percent overall share. In that mix, Windows 7 rules at 44.48%, XP follows next at a still-high 39.51%, and Windows 8 trails far behind at 2.26% (less than Mac OS X 10.8 at 2.44%, and just over one third of the aggregate OS X share of 6.4% for versions 10.8, 10.7, and 10.6 combined).

Windows still rules the pie on the desktop, but how long can it stay on top?

Windows still rules the pie on the desktop, but how long can it stay on top?

But there’s another figure on the NetMarketShare page, that tells a changing story that bodes ill for the desktop — and Microsoft — in the long term. It shows the composition of overall share by device type, and distinguishes desktop devices from mobile and tablet devices. Right now, that breakdown looks like 87.8% for desktop and 11.8% for mobile and tablet devices (presumably with the remaining 0.4% allocated elsewhere or lost to rounding error). But on the corresponding mobile share graph, Microsoft barely registers at 1.15% for all versions of Windows Phone, and iOS at 60.56% and Android at 24.51% rule this roost.

The emerging long-term trend, of course, is that the ratio of desktops to mobile devices is going to keep tilting ever more strongly in favor of mobile devices, as billions of new smartphones and tablets get purchased and start tapping into the Internet, particularly outside First World countries where computer ownership is more or less given in most families. In the Second and Third Worlds, however, high costs and  lack of infrastructure, training for, and exposure to conventional PCs combine with an inexhaustible appetite for mobile devices to suggest that sometime in the next decade — perhaps sooner — the ratio will change to put mobile devices in the majority, and those devices will achieve absolute ascendancy as the workloads that demand PCs today can also be accommodated on mobile devices in the future.

When that happens (and most experts are convinced this switchover is just a matter of time) what happens to Microsoft? Good question! Obviously, the company itself is concerned, as its remaking of the Windows 8 desktop as a tablet-oriented OS shows, and as the company’s renewed and intensified focus on Windows Phone OSes also attests. Will it be enough to keep the colossus of Redmond relevant to the emerging 21st century mobile computing landscape? Another good question. I can tell that they’re trying hard to stage a big comeback, but also that success so far eludes their grasp. This should be an interesting technology tango to watch, as Apple and Android seek to eat Microsoft’s lunch. I have to see this as a consumer win, but also hope that today’s highly fragmented mobile landscape finds a bit more order amidst the prevailing chaos as we work our way deeper into this decade, and beyond. This blog may need a new title sometime sooner, if it doesn’t become completely irrelevant before then!

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Desktop volume tells you this is a big market not to throw away. You don't slaughter the cash cow just to buy the latest flashy horse. IBM is not a huge flashy player anymore but does just fine with the older mainframe/miniframe computer market. They wisely let the PC market go because it was too far out of its focus. Maybe Microsoft should do the same and continue to support and profit from its desktop market while letting the flashy latest focus move to someone else. If I sound crazy, it is only my two cents. I don't manage big companies so what do I know. Long live the desktop, and best wishes for the new mobile kid on the block.
Thanks for the feedback, FTC. You are correct to observe that it's not really a matter of the desktop (or notebooks/laptops) "going away." It's much more a matter of tablets and smartphones eclipsing those devices, and swamping them with bigger numbers (thus, for example, I saw that Apple sold 23 million iPads in Q42012 when HP sold only 13 or 14 million PCs and notebooks combined).--Ed--
Note that IBM didn't exactly "let the PC market go". They sold a majority share while retaining almost a fifth of the resulting Lenovo is headquartered almost right next to IBM in New York and is mostly run by ex-IBMers. In return, IBM received close to $2billion, and gained a business partner in the Chinese government. This gave IBM a strong foothold in the huge market that is China where governmental approval is critical. It's almost certain that that was a major prize that IBM was not unaware of. The PC hardware market generally isn't quite a "cash cow" by itself, but holding tight to a couple financial strings is definitely important. The strings lead to very large financial benefits in many possible near futures, and PCs by themselves don't have to be the source. -- Tom
You make some excellent points, Tom. And with Lenovo now in the catbird seat for PC stuff -- and sitting on top of the biggest market for such stuff in the world -- they are indeed in a great position. I didn't know that IBM had made so many gains from the sales of their PC division, but it doesn't surprise me to learn that they played it for the long term.Thanks for some great comment fodder.--Ed--