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So Windows 8.1 is Ahead of OS X Mavericks: Should You Care?

The news has come down that Windows 8.1 may be getting somewhat more popular. Well at least it’s on more computers than OS X Mavericks, based on a survey from Net Applications, which records Web traffic. While this may be considered significant to some, it’s really not so significant, particularly when you compare Microsoft’s latest and greatest to the legacy operating systems that still dominate.

The survey, which is only as good as the Net Applications sampling scheme, concludes that Windows 8.1, which is a free upgrade for Windows 8 users in addition to being preloaded on new PC boxes, has a 2.64% share, compared to Mavericks, which has a share of 2.42%. But total Windows 8/8.1 market share is 9.3%, which means a high number of PC users have yet to install the free upgrade, which was released in October.

Before I go on, though, I’m sure most of you realize that there are many times more Windows PCs than Macs out there, so this development may not be as significant as implied by some of the lurid headlines you read. You see, as of the first month since Mavericks was released as a free download, it was installed on nearly a third of all Macs still in use. It took five months for 10.9’s predecessor, Mountain Lion, to reach that figure.

To put things in perspective, Windows Vista, generally regarded as an embarrassing failure for Micorsoft, still has a 3.57% share. Yet Windows 7 remains on top with 46.6%, and Windows XP, circa 2001, has a 31.2% share.

So consider that Windows XP is found on roughly the same percentage of PCs still in use as Mavericks on Macs; the latter being just weeks old. Now do you see the distinction? Indeed, the continued popularity of this old version of Windows has to serve as a continued embarrassment to Microsoft, which has established an end of life status for XP as of April 8, 2014. Sure, Windows 7 has moved ahead by a fair margin, but the larger question is whether that number will dip or businesses will continue to demand that older versions of Windows be installed on new PCs.

After all, Microsoft has really yet to make a compelling case for Windows 8/8.1 in the enterprise. The controversial tiled interface, formerly known as Metro, may be consumer friendly, but it’s a huge question mark how that helps a business. The current version of Microsoft Office still operates in the Windows 8.1 desktop layer, with only passing lip service for touchscreens. No wonder the Surface tablet has been a failure, although the closeout gear, at $199, seems to be doing fairly well at Best Buy. Convertible PC note-books, which combine the functions of a bloated tablet with a traditional portable computer, only occupy roughly 10% of the market. This despite the fact that the new version of Windows is more suited to touchscreens than a mouse or trackpad.

Now nobody should be surprised that Windows 8.1 is growing at a passable rate, and that rate should increase during the holiday season. New PCs ship with the current version of Windows. Business users may be able to buy hardware with Windows 7, or require the downgrade, though they may just wipe the hard drive and reinstall the OS and software from a customized disk image. That will ensure consistency, but it sure won’t help improve the adoption rate for Windows 8.1.

It’s also true that PC sales have been in the doldrums. Sure, Mac sales were down the last quarter too, and it may well be that these trends won’t change. The best Apple can do is to reduce the erosion. But, in large part, people like OS X Mavericks, and the latest Macs are fast and power efficient, with a little help from 10.9 of course. In contrast, Windows 8.1 isn’t getting the love from media pundits, although it’s clearly somewhat better than the original Windows 8 release.

Where Microsoft will take this is not certain. There are published reports that the Windows RT OS, the one for ARM processors, may be history. Does that mean that Windows Phone will somehow be revised to function efficiently on tablets? That would seem to actually make sense since Windows smartphones are actually decent products, with elegant hardware, and the OS gets pretty favorable reviews overall even though it is somewhat behind iOS and Android in offering the latest and greatest features.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s search for a new CEO continues. You almost think the company is in a waiting mode, although the Xbox One gaming console has earned quick sales, and has received mostly favorable ratings. But would the new CEO have to pledge to continue existing policies, such as completing the purchase of Nokia’s handset division? After all, if an incoming chief executive wasn’t given the freedom to rebuild Microsoft and fix ongoing problems with Windows and mobile hardware, it would be equivalent to taking a job with one’s hands tied behind their back.

So what if the new Microsoft CEO decided to kill the tablets, abort the Nokia sale (though the contract probably makes this move impossible), and order up a refined version of Windows 7 to succeed Windows 8? Since I’m not a corporate CEO and don’t play one on radio or TV, I wouldn’t presume to guess. Meanwhile, the latest Windows 8.1 numbers don’t really provide much in the way of good news for Microsoft.