We’re coming up on three years since the launch of Windows 10, which was intended as Microsoft’s comeback after the abysmal performance of Windows 8 and 8.1. While Windows 10 does fix a lot of what was wrong with Windows 8, uptake isn’t as robust as the company originally hoped. After months of waffling on install numbers, Microsoft says Windows 10 is still running on less than 700 million devices, according to CEO Satya Nadella.
So, 700 million computers with Windows 10 sounds like a lot. And indeed, that’s objectively a sizeable user base. However, the way Microsoft describes the total number of Windows 10 devices has been suspicious all through 2018. It has backed off the 700 million number several times, which could indicate slowing uptake among consumers and businesses.
Going back to March of this year, former Windows chief Terry Myerson stepped down and published an open letter that noted that Windows 10 was closing in on 700 million devices. Then at Build in May, Microsoft said it had crossed the 700 million device threshold. Champagne and high-fives all around, right? Not so fast. Microsoft corrected itself and said Windows 10 was still under 700 million active installs.
In June, Microsoft again celebrated moving past 700 million Windows 10 devices. And again, Microsoft had to walk it back and clarify that it was almost 700 million. That brings us to today and a quarterly earnings call with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Nadella struck a customarily upbeat tone, noting that Windows 10 was running on (can you guess?) nearly 700 million active devices. So, that confirms that Microsoft still has not reached the benchmark it started talking about way back in March of this year. This is just weird.
This stagnating install number should not come as a surprise. Microsoft squandered much of its early goodwill with aggressive upgrade pushes, mandatory updates, and the bizarrely hobbled Windows 10 S build. Microsoft has systematically overestimated the number of Windows 10 devices it would have by now. In 2015, Microsoft predicted it would have over one billion devices in two or three years. With just a few days to go until the third anniversary, Microsoft has backed off that promise.
There have been a number of third-party reports on Windows 10 usage, which also point to sluggish uptake. The shift to mobile and increasing popularity of Chromebooks appears to have eaten into Microsoft’s traditionally insurmountable OS lead. 700 million isn’t bad, but it’s not a billion, either.
The future is unclear for Microsoft, but Windows isn’t going away anytime soon.
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