Windows 7 dropped below the 50% user share mark last month, finally ceding the operating system majority on Windows PCs.
The decline of Windows 7 was good news for Microsoft, which wants customers to move to the newer Windows 10 as soon as possible.
According to analytics vendor Net Applications, Windows 7's November global user share fell 3.5 percentage points, ending the month at 43.1%. November's plunge was the largest ever for the OS that debuted in 2009.
When only Windows personal computers were included in the calculation, Windows 7 ran 48.8% of all Windows machines, a month-over-month drop of 2.6 points. (The Windows-only percentage is larger because Windows powers 88.4% of the world's systems, not 100%; the remainder run macOS or a version of Linux.)
In Net Applications' tracking, November was the first month since Windows 7's mid-2015 peak during that it failed to account for more than half of all Windows editions.
While Windows 7's November tumble was dramatic, it was as much a push of a big red reset button by Net Applications as proof of massive numbers suddenly fleeing the veteran OS.
As it has periodically in the past, Net Applications reworked how it tracks operating systems, browsers and other metrics of interest to businesses. In a message appended to a refreshed website, the company explained that it had rewritten its "entire collection and aggregation infrastructure to address" misleading data.
The culprits, said Net Applications, were bots, the software-based automatons that mimic humans on the Web and are typically deployed by criminals to boost site traffic so they can cash in on various click fraud scams.
"Bots can cause significant skewing of data," Net Applications acknowledged. "We have seen situations where traffic from certain large countries is almost completely bot traffic. In other countries, ad fraudsters generate traffic that spoofs certain technologies in order to generate high-value clicks. Or, they heavily favor a particular browser or [operating system] platform."
Though some may immediately blame the majors shifts in OS user share on Net Applications' scrubbing its data of bot traffic, that would be only a knee-jerk reaction. "Please note: This dataset is separate from and replaces the legacy data," the company said, making clear that it had eradicated bot traffic from past data, too, not just the numbers from November.
In other words, Windows 7 was declining faster than thought all along.
Under Net Applications' new methodology, for example, Windows 7's user share for October was 43%, or 3.6 points lower than the firm called it using the older, bot-plagued data. The same held true in July, when the new bots-be-gone number (46.1%) was lower than the old bots-still-here number (48.6%). Those differences jibed with Net Applications' explanation that bot traffic caused off-kilter results; for criminals' click fraud schemes, it made sense to disguise their bots as Windows 7 users, because inflating those numbers would be easiest to hide.
Assuming that Net Applications cleaned out all or most of the dodgy bot traffic, the numbers should now be more accurate. They certainly will be more welcome at Microsoft.
That's because the new calculations show Windows 7's decline ahead of the pace set by Windows XP. With 25 months to go before its April 2014 retirement, XP accounted for 50.7% of all Windows PCs, or nearly two points higher than Windows 7's share in November. If Windows 7's drive toward zero is faster than XP's, it signals customers may be moving promptly to Windows 10 - avoiding a repeat of the panicked final months before support for Windows XP expired.
In fact, Net Applications' bot-less data made that case: Windows 10 ran on 32% of all personal computers last month, a 2.7-point increase, and powered 36.2% of all Windows PCs. It was the first time that Windows 10 accounted for a third or more of the Windows operating systems worldwide.
But unlike Windows 7 vs. XP, the comparison between Windows 10 and Windows 7 still favors the latter. At the same post-launch point in Windows 7's lifetime, it had captured an amazing 41.5% of the globe's Windows devices, or more than 5 percentage points greater than Windows 10 at November's mark. In other words, Windows 10 continues to lag behind the adoption rate set by Windows 7, and contrary to Microsoft's claims, is not its fastest-growing version.
Of the other Windows editions monitored by Net Applications, Windows XP accounted for 6.5% of Windows PCs (down), Windows Vista at an almost-invisible 0.5% (stable) and the Windows 8/8.1 combination at about 8.1% (up for some reason).
Net Applications estimates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers used to visit clients' websites. It counts the various operating systems listed in those strings, then weights the results by the size of each country's online population to better reflect regions where it lacks large numbers of customers.