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Windows 8 is both more and less popular than Windows 7

It all depends on what numbers you look at

Last week Microsoft put out an encouraging statistic about the popularity of its upcoming Windows 8 operating system: it’s been downloaded twice as many times as Windows 7 had been at this point in its development.

Happy news for proponents of the new touch-friendly platform, given the rousing reception Windows 7 received in the wake of Vista.

BACKGROUND: Windows 8 preview popularity kicking Windows 7's butt

But a different stat crops up today from a Computerworld colleague, Greg Kaiser, who compares the number of Windows 8 machines actually accessing the Internet to the number of Windows 7 computers accessing the Internet at the same point in its development. His result: only half the number of Windows 8 users accessed the Internet vs. Windows 7 users, based on numbers from Net Applications, a Web analytics company.

That puts a different spin on things. Downloads don’t necessarily mean that the downloaded software is being used.

It’s even more complicated than that. If the download numbers are a good indication of general interest in Windows 8, those numbers are healthy. If just a quarter of those downloads were used in the past week to access the Internet it could be people don’t like it and have tossed it aside.

Or maybe the downloads are being used offline for testing, so don’t show up as accessing the Internet.

Or perhaps the performance of Windows 8 on machines designed for Windows 7 isn’t up to expectations so people waiting for better machines.

So perhaps the outlook isn’t that dismal for Windows 8.

On the flip side, what if both sets of numbers are accurate? Then there’s twice as many downloads of Windows 8 Consumer Preview out there as there were downloads of Windows 7 Beta, according to the Microsoft numbers. Yet Windows 8 is in use by just half as many machines as Windows 7 was, according to the Net Applications number. It’s hard not to interpret that as damning for Windows 8.

Something is stopping potential customers from bridging between download and extended use, and whatever it is has to be worrying Microsoft. Windows 8 takes a bold new direction for the company, embracing touchscreens, a new user interface style, and a new programming platform. The stakes are high. The numbers indicate something has gone wrong or at least not terribly right so far.

It’s not time to despair and Microsoft won’t – yet. The only meaningful numbers about Windows 8’s popularity will be how quickly and how widely it is adopted once it’s released in its final form.

This situation will boost the importance of Windows 8 Release Preview when it becomes available the first week in June because it will be one of the last chances Microsoft has to tweak the platform and boost its popularity before the final version is released.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene)

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