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Is Windows Share Really Slipping?

Windows has long had remarkable market share, well over 90 percent for most of its mature life. Now Forrester says that share is down to just 30 percent. So what took over? The Mac, Linux, some new-fangled PC OS? No, it is all smartphones.

This kind of math makes for a good headline, but is horrible research. A smartphone is not a PC, nor is a tablet (unless it's a Surface).

A PC is a multifunction computer capable of handling work computing tasks, documents, content creation and editing, communication and fundamental corporate computing. Phones and tablets do some of this, and are used for corporate computing on no more than a part-time basis.

I'd venture that Forrester did not craft its surveys on a tablet, crushed numbers on a smartphone version of Excel and wrote the report on a Kindle.

When you talk about Windows market share, please talk about PCs. When you talk about phones please talk about phones. And when you talk about tablets, stick to tablets.  

Instead Forrester considers almost anything with a processor and screen a personal computing device.

Yes, the computer industry is changing and new mobile OSes are challengers for Windows. But to get it all straight requires a more subtle analysis rather than tossing apples (mobile devices) and oranges (PCs) into one big mush.

Am I too hard on the number crunchers at Forrester or are they fundamentally misunderstanding what Windows market share is all about? Feel free to agree or disagree at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 11/02/2012 at 1:19 PM


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Reader Comments:

Mon, Nov 5, 2012

Fair is fair. I think you could say that Foresters market share is now less than a tenth of a percent. When you properly consider all the blogs and even this column are providing the same thing.

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 William Virginia

Noting that AutoCAD won't run on some desktops, that desktops can make phone calls, XP Tablet Edition, BT keyboards, and that some phones won't fit in a pocket -- thinking through the developments from the 80's on, does anyone have definitive tests -- if 'Test A' it is/not a PC, if 'Test B' it is/not a tablet, if 'Test C' it is/not a phone?  What about convertibles?   Sent from my iPod -- not even a phone, even with Skype?

Sun, Nov 4, 2012 IT Manager Central NY State

I also don't buy into putting smartphones, tablets & PC's into the same basket for this type of comparison. As stated in similar discussions of this point, PC's are a much more mature & stable market, nothing can grow double digits indefinitely and PC's have a flat growth curve at this point - smartphones are still going up and will eventually flatten out too. Given that smartphones are much more expendable than a PC, the churn in smartphone-like devices may not get as flat as PC's. The point that I see neglected is that the industry doesn't want to displace PC's with other devices, they want us to supplement the PC by adding devices. So, you need a PC if you do any real work, you can use your tablet when you need a reasonable display but not the horsepower of a PC and a smartphone to stay connected on the go and to do minor tasks. Given that Apple is building a new generation of iPods, you can also make the case for that 4th tier of devices for when you want really small & light. Now if they would only build a smartphone with decent voice quality, you know, to make phone calls!

Sun, Nov 4, 2012 Lionel Bergen County New Jersey

If the PC market as defined in the Redmond article is increasing at a satisfactory rate then microsoft should be content. 100 percent of a zero nmarket would not bd satisfactory. The windows market should be relegated to PC's and should be rated with other PC operating systems.

Sun, Nov 4, 2012 harrywwc

remember, it's all "horses for courses". I wouldn't carry a full desktop pc to make phone calls with, and I wouldn't edit my class notes on my mobile phone. the flaw in the "research" is saying 'oranges are fruit, tomatoes are fruit' so we can put tomatoes in a fruit salad. the comparison intellectually makes sense, but doesn't really work. additionally, the market for "personal devices" has exploded over the last 2 decades.

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 Dan Iowa

One more point to those who think it is wise to look at a phone as a computing device: It may have a processor, but that processor is not used to do PC stuff. It is used primarily to communicate. We primarily use phones to call, text, and twitter. We also use them to watch videos, and read emails. Would it not be equally appropriate to compare market share with companies like ATT? How about Magnavox, Sharp, and Sony? How about Ford, GM, and Toyota? (I mean if I can attend a meeting via IM and Voice rather than drive to the offifce, haven't I replace the automobile?) Every one of these products also has one or more processors and microchips, and every one of these products has an LCD or similar display. That does not make them all a variety of car, or all a variety of TV. What makes a phone a phone is what you do with it. Somebody said today's phones have more processing power than a computer from the early 90's. That may be true, and yet we'd all rather have a computer from the early 90's to use for editing a document than to have to do it on a phone. In fact, my phone does get me to a meeting faster and using less gas than any modern car, but don't expect to see comparisons between iPhones and other small cars anytime soon.

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 Dan Iowa

I think it is clear that you can't call a phone a PC. Why? Not because a phone isn't personal, and not because it can't compute stuff. A phone can do all of those things, but it could not when the PC was invented. For that reason, the term PC was defined long ago, along with the expectations of what it should be able to do. Any assertion that a phone is a PC would be false advertising. A phone can not be used to do the most basic tasks of a PC. You can not type a term paper with a phone, or even a simple letter. Most phones can not print a paper. You can't work on a spreadsheet. You can't edit photos. Sure it can do a few things almost as well as a PC, but never better, but many things can simply not be done. They are more personal than they are computers. For that reason, they are not PCs. Quite simply that name was already taken by a device that, at the very least, must be able to function as an adequate document editor. You can tell that, though most of us own both, the PC is still important because not one response to this was entered using their phone even by those who take the opposite view. If they had used their phone, all you'd have seen is a simple, "OMG LOL"

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 Jim Australia

Using Forrestor's reasoning, the GPS , panel display, traction control, engine monitors, and even the anti-skid brakes in your car probably qualify for inclusion in their calculations because they all have some sort of processor and display associated with them. But they don.t run on a Windows OS, whichever version you might like to nominate. I have yet to see a smartphone or tablet that can handle a program like AutoCAD or Revit at full bore, and although the computing power may be available, the screen size(s) simply preclude the use on the smaller devices.

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 Dan Canada

I love it when people say we need to do this or that, we should change this, our society needs to stop doing this, that and the other thing. Ain't gonna happen. As tech gets increasingly simple users will become increasingly simple right along with it with repercussions throughout society. This is an ongoing process that started a long time ago. And that's one of the reasons there is a 1%. :-)

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 William Virginia

Remember, the market includes many home users who don't need to run Excel or even Word -- their word processing consists of composing short emails. Even some SMBs don't need that much computing power; they may have 1 POS web terminal and 1 backroom machine with an inkjet MFC; and, they may never buy any applications beyond those bundled with the OS and printer. Also, have you seen the eTextbooks; those applications go way beyond the old CBTs that were run on 'real' computers -- of course even Today's feature phones have more processing capability than Yesterday's mainframes.

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 Ed Colorado

It's only bad research if your goal is to prove that Windows is the king of the hill. I think it is wise of Forrester to look at the whole space of "computing devices" that people routinely use on a daily basis. This is a sea change and needs to be noted.

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 Dan A Mile High and a Mile Deep . . . .but everybody's on the level

. . . it all started when they started to put sound cards and CD drives into work tools. Somebody then decided that they were for entertainment and not work. If you look at the ads for the new Mac(intrash) book, it has nothing about computing in the pitch, just shows off the device's chrome and its ability to replace crayons, TV and a record player. It is the difference between a Miata and a Peterbilt. You won't find Tim Allen using a MacIntrash!

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 WrongWay

I agree that they should be more specific. While I get where John was going with his comment I do somewhat disagree. When you ask someone if you can use their PC they do not offer you their phone or tablet. They take you to their Laptop or Desktop. Our society needs to quit redefining terms. If I want to use your phone or table I will ask to use your phone or table. On another point, I have yet to personally meet a anyone that has gotten rid of his/her PC in favor of a phone/tablet. I do know those that have gotten phones/tablets to enhance their overall Computing experience but the basis of that experience is still a laptop/desktop... Apples to Apples please…

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 Clarence Indiana

I had to re-write this because at first I was on your side. Now I'm not on either side. Like you said, the math isn't good math. But you can do real work on many of the mobile devices just like you can on a traditional desktop. I don't like the way every semi-sentient phone is grouped into the smart phone column when it is evident that it can't be compared in the same way. There needs to be a metric that can be used to qualify what is counted as a PC and what is not before the almighty analyst decrees apples are oranges. Wait. Did I just switch sides again?

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 Jusitn California

@Bruce "I sometimes wonder if the need for headlines drives most of these all-encompassing claims of paradigm shifts. Unfortunately the resulting stories tend to be unpalatable at best." I could not agree more!

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 Bruce Florida

I watch people with IPads and other tablet devices attempting to work with enterprise documents and hopelessly compromised applications, cursing under their breath (not always that quiet) and wonder what the pundits mean when they tell us that Windows is losing momentum. No one in our organization is contemplating replacing their desktop (physical or virtualized) with an Android or IOS tablet or, worse yet, a cell phone. Those devices have their place and it isn't on the desk of an enterprise worker. I sometimes wonder if the need for headlines drives most of these all-encompassing claims of paradigm shifts. Unfortunately the resulting stories tend to be unpalatable at best.

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 bayard Fletcher, NC

I think their analysis is correct in spirit: Microsoft's market share in the computing device space has slipped by virtue of the introduction of new device types. Microsoft must feel that way, too, or they would not have bet their business on a new cross-platform OS. MS doesn't want to own a shrinking market segment, and is not focused only on PCs. I think Forrester should have done a better job of qualifying their headline, though.

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 John

In some ways I agree, especially that people tend to replace smart phones more often than Desktops. So the sales of new devices are skewed higher than the actual usage... However, a smart phone is most definitely a PC. What is a PC? It's a personal computer. I do not understand why some try change it's definition. You can not get any more personal than a device you carry with you. If you want to talk about desktops, call it as sunch, and try to call it PCs, because smart phones are very personal computers. Most smart phones have more CPU power, storage capacity and other resources than a desktop of the early 90s.

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