It's official (sorta): Windows 10 kneecapped PC sales

One in five consumers decided not to buy a new PC after upgrading their operating system to Windows 10

It's official (sorta): Windows 10 kneecapped PC sales
DobaKung (CC BY 2.0)

There has been anecdotal talk that Microsoft's aggressive Windows 10 upgrade/giveaway harmed PC sales, since it's known most people upgrade to a new OS via a new PC purchase rather than doing a software upgrade. Now Gartner has confirmed this theory.

In an interview with The Register (and confirmed with the analyst by me), Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal told the publication, "People with older PCs upgraded to Windows 10 and held onto them. Microsoft didn’t expect that number to be so high."

+ Also on Network World: Credibility and trust: Microsoft blows it +

By June of this year, 40 percent of consumers in the U.S. (consumers, not IT) had upgraded their PC to Windows 10, and most interesting, the average age of the PC was four years. That's much older than you typically see upgraded. Usually by that point the system is in its later years and is about to be replaced.

That's not surprising. Microsoft made a great effort to keep the system requirements for Windows 10 at the same low level as previous versions. In fact, Windows system requirements have not gone up since Vista, although there you needed a decked out system. People are buying systems with 8GB of memory when the OS needed only 1GB.

About 308.3 million PCs were sold worldwide in 2014, according to IDC. That number fell to 276.2 million in 2015, a 10.4 percent drop. Gartner puts the percentage drop from 2014 at 8 percent. However, there are a few caveats:

Gartner also said the economy and mature markets also played a role in the drop, and here's the big one: it couldn’t quantify with any certainty how many PC sales were lost due to the Windows giveaway despite that one-in-five figure.

It was clear to me that Windows 10 was eating into the old operating systems just looking at the monthly usage stats from Net Applications, StatCounter and especially Steam. There would be an increase in Windows 10 and a proportional decrease in Windows 7 and especially 8.1 Despite some upgrades that made Windows 8.1 more tolerable, that OS was so maligned and hated people were more than happy to move off it to Windows 10. Windows 7 users have been much slower to take the plunge.

What happens after the free Windows 10 upgrade ends?

The big question now becomes what happens when Microsoft ends its freebie on July 29? They've already snagged about 350 million installs. Will PC sales continue to sputter or will they finally pick up? If I had to make a prediction, I would say a slow return to normal. Anyone who wanted Windows 10 has it by now. They either took the upgrade or bought a new PC.

What comes after July 29 is simply PC replacement, and that has slowed considerably. The fact is PCs are well-made and last a while. My father used an 8-year-old Dell Dimension up until the lack of software support forced his hand to a Windows 10 machine. That Dimension worked like a charm right to the end. PCs last these days, so if you wait for them to fail before upgrading, you'll be holding on for a while—which is unfortunate for the PC vendors.

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