The "not so fast" demise of Windows: More PCs were sold in 2015 than in 2005

The number of Windows PCs worldwide has increased in the last ten years in spite of a much larger, diverse market.

It’s been a few years since I covered the topic of the death of Windows, so I wanted to revisit where we are today with Windows usage worldwide. Just about every discussion about the future of IT leaves Windows out of the picture, which might lead you to believe that if you run Windows now that you’re behind the times. But while there’s no doubt the future is less Windows-dependent than ever, you can rest assured knowing that Windows will be around for a very long time.

In the last article, I used data that showed that since 2009, Windows usage worldwide has dropped from 94.5% to just under 91% in 2014. Since 2014, the number has leveled off, sitting right around 90.5% as of this writing. It’s a rate of decline that amounts to around .5% per year–far slower than you’d expect in the face of the death of Windows marketing buzz.

But that data is incomplete (maybe even irrelevant), and only represents a percentage of the desktop computers in the world that are running Windows. There could be 10 billion desktops or 100 desktops and the data will look the same. So we need to dig deeper and look at something a bit more indicative of the world today. It’s pie chart time!

Windows Usage in 2005
Windows Usage in 2005

In 2005, two years before iOS and Android entered the public consciousness, 202 Million PCs were sold. This environment is the one that we compare the future to, where Windows had an incredible market share. The only data I could find was for PCs, not other handheld devices, but let’s face it–in 2005 there were no viable “mobile” devices that you could actually use to do business 100% of the time. To address this, I made a SWAG that figures PCs made up 85% of the market at the time. Honestly, it’s probably higher than that.

Now let’s take a look at the landscape in 2015:

Windows Usage in 2015
Windows Usage in 2015

Make no mistake, the world is quite different. According to Gartner (though I’ll link to Wikipedia since it’s easier to read), 54.16% of the devices shipped in 2015 were Android. iOS makes up another 12.37%, and “other” comes in at 21.66%. That means that Windows’ share of the pie in 2015 is a scant 11.79% compared the 92% it had ten years before!

But here’s the thing, in 2015, 2.5 billion devices were shipped–over ten times the number of devices shipped in 2005! So while that 11.79% share looks bleak, in reality 11.79% of 2.5 billion is 283 million. In other words, 81 million more Windows devices were sold in 2015 than were sold in 2005. The world just got bigger around Windows while Windows kept growing.

If I wanted to convince you that Windows will be around forever, I’d stop there. The trouble is, that’s only part of the story. The truth is, sales of Windows devices peaked in 2011 at 352.8 million devices sold. I doubt we’ll ever see that many Windows devices sold again, though I might wait to make that call until after the 2016 numbers come out and we’ve had a whole year with Windows 10.

The point of this little exercise is to further demonstrate that Windows is on the decline, but it’s not going quietly. It’s certainly not sexy to run Windows today, much less create a startup that deals with Windows or Windows apps, but rest assured the numbers continue to indicate that Windows will remain in our future for many years to come. That means that desktop virtualization in all its forms will remain a priority for companies, and that new technologies like App Refactoring RMADs still have some runway before taking off.

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I agree with everything you write, and yet I disagree with the ultimate conclusion. As I stated in my 2015 BriForum talk on the future of Windows, I think that the continued success of this OS is tied to the PC form-factor. As long as PCs continue to be purchased in large volume, so will Windows. As you showed, mobile devices have not replaced PCs, but it's my belief that over the upcoming decade or two, such devices will come along. When that happens, the decline of Windows will be rapid.