Posted on May 10, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 41 Comments


During the opening keynote at Build 2017, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that there are now over 500 million active Windows 10 PCs worldwide. The previous milestone was 400 million, from last October.

Microsoft told me ahead of Build that it “felt really good” about the adoption rate of Windows 10, and as I’ll demonstrate below there is good cause for this.

But a little math does show two disappointing trends: Windows 10 adoption has only slowed over the past year. And it is dramatically slower than the adoption of Windows 7, month-to-month, over its first three years.

That last comment requires a bit of a caveat: When Windows 7 was still the current Windows version, Microsoft massaged the way it reported Windows license sales in order to make them more consistent month-to-month. So Windows 7 adoption rose by 20 million units per month for three straight years.

Windows 10 has been in the market for less than two years (22 months), and there are 500 million active devices. At two years, there were (allegedly) 480 Windows 7 million sales. Does that mean Windows 10 is selling at a faster clip than did Windows 7? No, because Microsoft held back on reporting on licenses sold so that it could backfill later when sales slowed. But Microsoft is right to be pleased by Windows 10 uptake, given that the PC market has shrunk since 2009-2010, and that users are not upgrading as quickly.

But yes, it’s also fair to say that Windows 10 adoption has only slowed, and dramatically, over time. (I do realize that “license sales” and “active devices” are two different things. But I also think they’re roughly comparable.)

During its first year in the market—yes, when it was free—Windows 10 was adopted at an average rate of over 31 million new devices per month. It makes sense that adoption would be high in the beginning and, in this case, during a temporary free promotion.

From there, adoption slowed to 29 million per month and then 17 million. With this new figure, we can see that the number of new Windows 10 devices coming online per month, on average, is now at a bit over 14 million units.

You may recall that Microsoft had at one time expected to hit 1 billion active Windows 10 devices within 2-3 years of the initial release. At the current rate, it will take Microsoft 36 more months, or three years, to hit that target. (That’s a total of almost five years.) But nothing is ever that stable: Enterprise adoption could speed things up. Or the continued decline of the PC could weigh on the monthly average. There’s just no way to know.

Anyway, Microsoft is right to be pleased. For a mature product in a declining market, Windows 10 is doing pretty damned well.


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Comments (41)

41 responses to “500 MILLION”

  1. nwebster

    Why is this surprising? ofcourse anyone who wanted to upgrade would do so when free, or when it was new. Businesses will be slower to adopt it, and we are heading into their adoption period. This is not news! This is not unexpected! This is normal...

  2. bfarkas

    "But a little math does show two disappointing trends: Windows 10 adoption has only slowed over the past year. And it is dramatically slower than the adoption of Windows 10, month-to-month, over its first three years."

    Think you meant Windows 7 in the second part of that.

  3. Jester

    So there giving numbers on Windows, but not Xbox.

  4. Narg

    I expect the sunset of WIndows 7 support in 2020 may cause a jump. Anyone's guess at this point.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Narg:

      Any large enterprise with competent IT staff already has pilots going for the Windows 10 transition, and I figure with 1507 just having reached EOS, they'll want to see how the long-term business branches do.

  5. hrlngrv

    Windows 10 will reach 1 billion users by January 2020, when Windows 7 hits EOS, perhaps even months before that.

    OTOH, Windows Store will continue to look like a Venezuelan supermarket.

    Back when made, wouldn't the estimates of 1 billion Windows 10 devices have included 200 million or so Windows phones? That would have seemed plausible 2 years ago.

  6. jjaegers

    I work in the IT industry with a VAR and I will say that over the last month or two Windows 10 is starting to be the norm as customers purchase new hardware... I think we will see an uptick in business adoption over the course of this year.  Most vendors have certified their legacy apps with Windows 10 now and we are starting to see our health care customers, and manufacturing customers start to adopt Windows 10.

  7. glenn8878

    Windows 10 isn't a bad OS, but the whole Metro UI needs a overhaul (new skin) and they still haven't brought Windows File Explorer and Control Panel forward. They must integrate Metro with desktop. This 2 for 1 just doesn't work. DOA. Windows Store doesn't work without mobile and supports a fractured device form factor. Time for Windows 11.


    Do these numbers matter anymore? When people use their cell phones even while sitting at their computer?

  9. MutualCore

    Microsoft is doomed!

  10. Jeff Jones

    First, let me say I have Windows 10 on everything and recommend that if someone asks what they should be using.

    But, regarding people wanting to upgrade to Windows 10. From a big picture view, Windows 10 and Windows 7 have practically the same capabilities. There's almost nothing that Win10 can do that Win7 can't. Aside from DirectX improvements for gaming (which could have been added to Windows 7 if they wanted), and the Windows Store, Microsoft has spent the last 8 years doing things and changing stuff basically for the sake of change.

    • Their main goal with v8 was to make it touch friendly. Very few loved it, so minimal income.
    • They provided free upgrades for v10 to anyone already on Windows 7/8, so no money income there.
    • The only major income is selling licenses of Windows for new machines which would have happened even if it was still called Windows 7.

    Now, I know, because I follow Microsoft closely, that they have done a lot of underpinning work to clean up Windows and help it run on lower powered machines and on ARM processors, but there's really no publicly visible break out features in Windows 10 that makes Windows 7 obsolete. Every function in Windows 10 could work fine in Windows 7 if Microsoft wanted. Basically Microsoft spent 8+ years since the release of Windows 7 just trying to make a universal touch friendly interface.

    This is the problem, from a consumer standpoint, Microsoft achieved a nearly perfect desktop computing OS with Windows 7 and now they don't know where to go next so they are just repainting it over and over again trying to drum up excitement.

  11. skane2600

    I've never attended Build, so I don't know what type of developer goes there, but are typical MS developers impressed by these kinds of numbers? Getting excited about sales numbers seems more like an Apple developer thing. Then again, I've never attended an Apple event either so maybe I'm wrong.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to skane2600:

      Not sure about "excited" but knowing the size of a market is how one decides whether to particpate, sure.

      • skane2600

        In reply to Paul Thurrott:

        When the numbers get large it's hard to get any sense of what they mean (It's well documented that people have trouble grasping very large numbers) Percentages are better. In the case of Windows 10 as a whole, we don't know whether the numbers tell us anything about UWP vs Win32. If these numbers were 100 million smaller or larger, would it really change anyone's mind about developing for Windows?

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to skane2600:

      I would be, since as a developer, that's potential customers. It helps me understand where the customers are, and thus how to best reach them. Web, Store, whatever.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to jimchamplin:

        If we're talking sales numbers useful for 3rd party developers, does MSFT provide lots of monthly statistics on Windows Store visits and sales at Build? If all a Windows 10 license sale means is one fewer Windows 8.x, 7 or even XP machine, that's not particularly valuable.

  12. Darmok N Jalad

    Curious what it would take to get users over the hump and upgrade. Privacy concerns, lack of desire, Windows 7 is good enough? Until it physically breaks, a PC that shipped with Windows 7 is still likely good enough these days for most people. I don't know if Windows 8 is to blame, but I don't think people see a new OS from MS as a reason to upgrade anymore. Corporations will help, since most will eventually have no choice, and MS has a strong presence there.

    Anecdotally, my father-in-law asked me to help him upgrade, but he waited too long to get it for free. I know he hated Windows 8 enough that he stopped using the laptop that had it entirely.

    Does Xbox count here too? If so, I wonder when those numbers hit?

    • Chris Lindloff

      In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

      "Curious what it would take to get users over the hump and upgrade"

      Traditionally users only upgrade the OS when they buy a new PC. To them a PC is like an appliance that does certain things for them. Once it gets slow or starts to break physically then they replace it. They learn the new OS and go back to the device doing its "appliance like" jobs.

      They simply are indifferent to a new OS. I know people that almost never upgrade iOS as they don't want anything to break.

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

      You can still do a clean install with a Windows 7/8 product key for Windows 10 activation.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

      Few people upgrade Windows versions on existing PCs. That was quite different in Windows 10's first year, with free upgrades and GWX shenanigans. When free upgrades and GWX stopped with 1607, adoption slowed. Now back to normal pace, with new Windows 10 licenses coming almost exclusively from new PCs replacing older PCs with older Windows versions.

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

      Windows 7 isn't "good enough" for today's Internet computing usage, ESPECIALLY for home users. Windows 10 is better, but both are overly complicated when there are simpler, and much more secure alternatives. Windows 10 doesn't make Windows any easier. It's still this great big ball of Linux-like customization-friendly OS (to a point - Linux distros are still better) that offers users advanced functionality and access to low-level OS controls that they probably shouldn't be tinkering with. I don't believe non-techie people should have access to the controls that Windows allows. I see it every day. People screw their own computer up because Microsoft doesn't protect users from themselves. Their antimalware stance is part of the problem. The other part is giving software developers (including manufacturers that are allowed to write their own drivers) far too much leeway in how they can modify Windows controls and settings.

      I started looking at Windows alternatives a couple years ago. Mac's are just stupidly expensive when there are far better options out there. I like Chrome OS, and I like what Google is trying to accomplish with it. I also like what's being done with Linux desktops, but many of them are all over the map. I recently took a look at Endless OS. I may even sell their PC's eventually, if there are any reseller opportunities available, but the OS is definitely interesting. It turns the PC into something truly educational, much like older school computer systems that would give you structured educational learning content. It's like your old grade school library PC, and I think a lot of non-techie users should be using a computer more like that.

      • Darmok N Jalad

        In reply to Waethorn:

        Yeah, if you need the latest hardware then Macs are pretty hard to justify, thought the iMac isn't too bad considering the build quality. Personally, I don't need that much power, so I just bought a 2010 Mac mini for $200. It runs Sierra and does pretty good for what I need. A used Mac Pro will cost more than that, but they are built very well and are actually fairly serviceable. Resale value on any Mac is usually pretty good so long as it is still getting the latest MacOS updates.

  13. Ron Diaz

    Lol, take a seat Paul. All this spinning is going to make you dizzy....

  14. Bill Russell

    A lot of people have just moved away from caring. When I started with PCs back around windows 3.1 you couldn't wait to get new windows. I ran out and bought win95 with my own personal $100 (the only time). But it was sort of the main game in town. By XP I didn't really care (win 2k seemed pretty good) and Vista absolutely couldn't have cared less. My interest in computers and operating systems was now satisfied by Linux and soon Android, and windows was just what I needed to use at work for various programs to get the job done. I "appreciate" windows as a work tool but, I just get a new PC when my employer gives me a new one and if it has a new version of windows, then i get it. But lately we are just happy to have a stable system with all the drivers working for hardware we need that we are just not interested in upgrading. One guy did take the leap and has just spend countless hours transitioning to the new PC.

    • Brian Devins

      In reply to Bill Russell:

      I can't speak for other people but I'm as enthusiastic as ever to try new major and minor revisions of Windows and other operating systems. I love Windows, but I love that is has strong competition to keep it striving for greater heights.

  15. PeteB

    Imagine if they'd built a proper successor to 7 that respected user privacy and control, and didn't expect desktop users to conform to a weird, tiled franken-UI intended for devices they aren't selling.

    No telling what that suspiciously big-round-number could have been.

  16. clark.mercer

    I think that future Windows 10 numbers will depend heavily on uptake in enterprises, not personal PCs. I've been an IT systems admin in the industry for well over a decade, so perhaps I have some room to speak on this subject. While this is unpredictable, I think there is a chance for a big uptake in the coming year or two in the enterprise. Someone commented earlier that Windows 10 gives nothing more than Windows 7, which I disagree with. There are many features offered by Windows 10 that Windows 7 will never have. Enhanced security is chief among reasons for enterprises moving to Windows 10. Security is always on the mind of enterprises, especially with all the ransomware and other malware going around lately. The Department of Defense is a good public example of enterprise (in this case government) wanting to get all systems to Windows 10 ASAP for security reasons. In that example, they did not meet their original goal (all systems by Jan 2017), but that was no surprise considering how extremely optimistic their original goal was.

    To me this is all reminiscent of the industry transition of XP to 7, with Vista largely ignored like Windows 8/8.1. Even at the end there were people clinging to XP just like there will be with Windows 7. In my humble opinion, all things considered, it's time for everyone that has not already done so (enterprises chief among them) to move to Windows 10 as swiftly as possible. Time will tell if that happens in the coming year. My bet is it will.