Understanding Windows 7 in the Age of Windows 10

Posted on May 22, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows, Windows 10 with 0 Comments

Understanding Windows 7 in the Age of Windows 10

Just do it.

It’s fair to say that Windows 7 has been on my mind this weekend. Having just confronted how awful the process of getting a newly-installed Windows 7 up-to-date has become over the years, I’m curious about what happens next. What will it take for Windows 10 to surpass Windows 7?

So many people still use Windows 7. But I couldn’t do it. From just a purely aesthetic standpoint, Windows 10 is flat and modern, where Windows 7 seems old-fashioned, of a different age. Even Windows 8.1 would be a much better choice, just from the perspective of having to stare at the thing each day.

Windows 10 is also less busy than Windows 7 in subtler ways. Thanks to Microsoft’s “Windows as a service” strategy, the OS is kept up to date continuously, and you never need to check Windows Update manually for those weird optional updates that seem to appear regularly. It’s more secure, as it comes with Windows Defender and many deep-seated security features that didn’t exist when Windows 7 was originally designed. And it’s more robust, with better reliability, mobile device-like power management, and better performance on the same hardware.

I don’t get the continued success of Windows 7. But hundreds of millions of people—about 750 million, or just under half of all Windows users—are using Windows 7 today. It’s not just the most successful version of Windows ever made. It is today, in the wake of Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10, the most popular PC operating system in use … today. It’s not even close.

So why do so many people still use such an old version of Windows?

Businesses aren’t hard to understand, and they drive a big chunk of that number. But for mainstream users, I suspect a big part of the reason is a combination of pragmatism and tradition. Most non-technical PC users have simply never upgraded from one major version of Windows to another because they were simply never expected to before, and the process was historically difficult with a relatively low success rate. PCs were—and still are, to these folks—like cars, where you get the new features when you buy new hardware. So when they buy a PC, they get whatever version of Windows is new at that time.

This isn’t how things work in the mobile devices world, though I realize some of you will argue otherwise with Android. Whatever: Overall, mobile devices have taught us to adapt in many interesting ways, and one thing we’re all very unconscious about is that mobile apps are updated on a daily basic. And if you’re an iOS user, or someone with an unlocked Android device, that OS is updated on a very regular schedule as well. We’re afraid of PC updates, but we don’t blink an eye on mobile.

OK, but Windows 7. 750 million active users?

Here’s some math to contemplate. Let’s assume the PC industry doesn’t grow or shrink going forward, and that the Windows 10 uptick—currently at about 24 million per month—remains constant. Lets further assume that every new Windows 10 activation going forward also results in one less Windows 7 PC out in the world as well. (Yes, I know. This isn’t how things work. Bear with me.) How long will it take for Windows 10 usage to overtake that of Windows 7?

There are 300 million Windows 10 “users”, and about 750 million Windows 7 users. At a change rate of 48 million per month—24 million more Windows 10 and thus 24 million less for Windows 7—it would take 10 months to make up that gap of 450 million users.

Is that going to happen? No, I don’t think so. Many Windows 10 instances will be on non-PC devices, for starters. Many will be on non-replacement devices, where Windows 7 PCs are not decommissioned but are passed on or otherwise still used.

If Windows 7 usage never changes—also impossible—it would take Windows 10 about 19 more months to surpass Windows 7 usage. So my guess—and here, the word “guess” is pretty accurate for once—is that it will be somewhere between 10 and 19 months before Windows 10 usage surpasses that of Windows 7.

That’s a long time. And a lot has changed since Windows 7 first launched in 2009.

At that time, I was using an iPhone 3GS, because Windows Phone hadn’t yet shipped and Windows Mobile was terrible. Netbooks were a thing. Internet Explorer 9 was new. Windows Home Server still existed. And Halo 3 ODST shipped on the Xbox 360, which was still white and still suffered from Red Ring of Death problems.


And today at home, I have this 2011-era Ultrabook on which I’ve reinstalled Windows 7 a few times for testing purposes. I keep reaching out to touch the screen, but nothing happens because this old-fashioned device doesn’t have a touch screen. I never thought I’d want to touch a screen—fingerprints, after all—and now I just expect it.

No self-respecting technology enthusiast would stick with Windows 7 in 2016. But the world isn’t driven by such people, and that is still a bit hard for me to wrap my head around. Especially now that I tested Windows 7 again.



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