With the free Windows 10 upgrade period finally drawing to exhausted close, I have some questions and comments about the future, and how upgrades will impact Windows 10 going forward.
Note: As I write this, there are less than two hours to go before the free Windows 10 upgrade offer officially expires.You can see the countdown on the Windows web site, but by the time many read this post—it’s 4:00 am in Boston at the moment—July 29 will have passed, taking with it the free upgrade offer.
I had expected Microsoft to issue a new Windows 10 active devices number on or around July 29, but perhaps that number will come on August 2, this coming Tuesday, when the Anniversary Update arrives, triggering a new round of Windows 10 update craziness. In any event, using the latest math, I speculated that there would be roughly 375 million to 380 million active Windows 10 devices by the end of July.
The exact number doesn’t matter per se, beyond two pertinent facts. One, whatever the number, it’s a big number. And two, it’s not as big as Microsoft thought it was going to be. And we know that because Microsoft quietly admitted it would not be able to hit its goal of 1 billion active Windows 10 devices after 2-to-3 years.
While some will take some perverse glee in this failure—believing that Microsoft somehow collectively “deserves” the embarrassment because of its heavy-handed tactics in desperately trying to force customers into upgrading—I’m concerned with more pragmatic matters.
For starters, I’m impressed that so few people upgraded, when you consider the size of the installed base.
That is, there are still approximately 900 million PCs in the world that are eligible for the Windows 10 upgrade, but were never upgraded. (According to the latest Netmarketshare data, 60 percent of PCs in the world are running Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1; 60 percent of 1.5 billion is 900 million.) It’s interesting to me that only a tiny percentage of the installed base actually upgraded.
Let’s estimate how bad it was. Warning: There will be bad math. Roll with it.
Over the four quarters in which Windows 10 was available, PC makers sold approximately 272 million PCs: 74 million units in Q3 2015, 72 million units in Q4 2015, 63 million units in Q1 2016, and 63 million units in Q2 2016. While it’s not possible to know how many of those PCs shipped with Windows 10—many were corporate devices that were downgraded to Windows 7, I’m sure—let’s guess and say that 50 percent of them are now running Windows 10. So about 135 million.
We know that most but not all Windows 10 devices are PCs. There are about 20 million Xbox Ones, for example. And then we would need to guestimate for phones and other devices. Being charitable, I’ll put that number at 5 million, even though that is a stretch.
This suggests that real human beings upgraded about 215 million PCs to Windows 10 over that first year. Out of 1.5 billion, or out of about 1 billion that were at some point eligible. So 20 percent-ish.
(The math, such as it is. If 135 million PCs sold with Windows 10 preinstalled then we arrive at about 240 million of the roughly 375 million Windows 10 devices being upgrades. But we have to subtract 20 million for Xbox and 5 million for phones/etc., arriving at 215 million. Yes, this is one giant hairball of supposition.)
So even though Microsoft was for some crazy amount of time tricking users into upgrading and then hoping they wouldn’t care enough to complain and/or roll back the system to their previous Windows version, the firm was only able to convince about 1 in 5 people to upgrade. To a free new version of Windows. 1 in 5, or 20 percent.
So what would be the incentive to upgrade now?
There is none, in my opinion: If one didn’t upgrade already, why would you do so now, when doing so will cost $100 or more depending on which product version you need? This tells me that Microsoft needs to rely almost exclusively on new device purchases to hit that 1 billion figure. Whenever that happens.
At the current sales rate, never a guarantee, Microsoft can add 400 million-ish new PCs over the next two years, at best, given that many PCs will continue to utilize Windows 7 in businesses. Those businesses will of course migrate to Windows 10 over time, but at their usual slow rate, which I think also explains Microsoft’s shortfall. There will be new Xboxes sold, new phones too. IoT devices. Surface Hubs. Hololens. And so on.
But for those who have held out and stuck with Windows 7—or god help them, Windows 8—I assume there is a sense of relief that Microsoft will finally stop badgering them to move into the 21st century. And they will do so: Not only is the “Get Windows 10” advertisement going away, Windows 10 will no longer be promoted as a recommended update in Windows Update, as Mary Jo Foley reported, meaning that you can start checking for updates normally again and keep your PC secure. Well, as secure as it can be, given that you’re still running Windows 7. (Sorry, I was channeling Microsoft there.)
One thing I’m still curious about is product keys: You might recall that last year Microsoft made it possible to install and activate Windows 10 using a valid (and not previously used) Windows 7 or 8 product key. This solved some big problems, but allowing this now makes no sense since the free upgrade period has ended. So I assume this will no longer be the case at some point, though I just tested this with the final Anniversary Update release and it worked just fine.
Anyway, Microsoft and its users are once again moving into a murky future. But with the “Get Windows 10” fiasco finally ending, maybe it’s time to turn our attention to the one salient fact that got lost in all this nonsense. Windows 10—the product—is freaking awesome. And I’m happy to put this circus behind me.