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Windows 10 take-up slows after forced July upgrades

In the days leading up to 29 July 2016, PCs running Windows were frantically updated to Windows 10, some by accident, others by design. But since then the pace has fallen off and even though the total number of PCs running the latest avatar of Microsoft's operating system 18 months after release is about 400 million there is no reason to rejoice.

At first glance, that number looks impressive – and it is, for it is thrice what was achieved by Windows XP in 18 months and equal to what was achieved by the long awaited Windows 7 that was released after the disaster that was Windows Vista.

But given that there are nearly 1.5 billion PCs in the world, these figures are now more a source of worry. They mean that nearly three out of four PC owners have not upgraded. What is even more troubling is that 150 million PCs continue to run Windows XP, a version for which support has long ended.

And a further 150 million are sticking with various other versions, the Economist reported.

Among enterprises, the figures are worse; a recent study by IT consultancy Softech found that corporate computers were running a mish-mash of Windows versions with just 1% running Windows 10.

Things may improve when support for Windows 7 runs out in January 2020. Microsoft had a goal of having Windows 10 on a billion PCs by 2018 but has admitted recently that it is unlikely to achieve that.

Web analytics firm Net Applications puts the percentage of systems running Windows 10 at 24%. Overall, Windows dominates the market with a 92% share; the remaining 8% is shared by macOS, Linux and Chrome.

In the days up to 29 July, Microsoft did whatever it could to push users to Windows 10. Some of the tactics bordered on harassment but the lure of getting a free upgrade did convince some to move.

But after that, upgrades have mostly been through purchases of new hardware.

The degree of privacy afforded by Windows 10 is much less than by earlier versions. Further upgrades cannot be disabled, except in the non-Home versions. This has tended to annoy some users no end.

Microsoft has used scare tactics to try and push business users across, trying to push the idea that ransomware — the latest scourge to haunt Windows — can affect Windows 7 more than it can harm Windows 10. And Microsoft will also soon prevent Windows 7 users from accessing a stand-alone toolkit that can mitigate zero-day exploits. The company's justification for doing this is that this toolkit has been made an integral part of Windows 10.

With every upgrade, Windows 10 is claimed to be more attractive. But then additional details filter out and people start having second thoughts about upgrading. For example, in April an update called the Windows Creators Update is expected to offer better privacy controls and improve on security. But the news that Microsoft will also bake in advertising for both third-party applications and its own services is bound to make people think again.

There is one simple reason for wanting everyone, or at least the majority, to move to the latest version: providing security updates for so many versions is a very costly process and any time there is a lapse, Microsoft gets a pasting in both the general and technology press.

It is indeed a troublesome job to sell and maintain the main desktop operating system in the world. Sometimes what you wish for — in the 1980s, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates often said he wanted to monopolise the desktop market — may not be the best choice.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.