Microsoft sold 400 million Windows 7 licenses; what does it mean?

Last Updated on November 19, 2018 by Dave Farquhar

Steve Ballmer announced today that Microsoft has sold 400 million Windows 7 licenses, but anywhere from half to two-thirds of PCs are still running Windows XP and need to get with the program.

He also continues to insist Windows 8 will ship in 2012, which really makes me wonder why those XP users need to switch now. December 2012 is 17 short months away, and XP support runs until 2014. I see little need to rush out now and buy Windows 7, use it for 18-24 months, and then turn around and buy Windows 8. If XP is fulfilling users’ needs, what’s the hurry? Unless Windows 8 is going to be late, as bad as Vista, or both. But none of that can happen, right? (Note: It’s not 2014 anymore, so if you haven’t upgraded from XP, you need to.)

I’m sure the Windows 8 Police will be along to haul me away shortly for insinuating such things. But until that happens, that 400 million figure lets us do some other interesting extrapolation.
Wikipedia provides estimated usage share of operating systems on a percentage basis. We can do a little math based on that 400 million figure to assign rough estimates to the rest of the systems a computer can run. Piracy certainly throws off the numbers a bit. Microsoft says 400 million people paid for Windows 7. Some aren’t using it (I have two unused Windows 7 licenses right now) but presumably more people pirated Windows 7 than bought it and didn’t use it.

So these are estimates, and most likely they understate the number of computers in use. But they’re better than wild guesses.

Windows 7 has 29.97 percent of the market. So the total market, based on Windows 7’s sales figures of 400 million, is about 1.33 billion devices.

Wikipedia provides the following breakdown, based on active Internet usage. I’ll add the extrapolated numbers, based on Windows 7’s sales, rounded to the nearest million. Ballmer’s estimates of half to 2/3 of PCs running Windows XP seems a bit off. It’s a little under half.

Windows 729.97%400 million
Windows Vista12.78%171 million
Windows XP37.89%506 million
Other Windows5.46%72 million
OS X7.4%99 million
iOS2.8%37 million
Linux1.2%16 million
Android1.03%14 million
Symbian.2%3 million
Blackberry.43%6 million
Other.88%12 million

I’d love to know the breakdown of “other Windows.” Based on some other digging around, Windows 2000 has around .13% usage share and Windows 98 is around .4%. The remainder must be split between mobile and server versions of Windows–and keep in mind there are lots of Windows servers that have never been on the Internet–and there must be some people still using Windows ME, 95, and even 3.1.

Expressed on a percentage basis, Windows 98 doesn’t seem like a lot, but .13% of all computers in active use on the Internet is still 5 million computers. That’s comparable to the number of Apple II computers that were sold during that computer’s lifetime, and comparable to the number of Blackberry devices in use, so it’s significant. I actually expected that number to be higher, but I must say I’m relieved that it isn’t. I think I assumed there was more Windows 98 out there because the people who use it tend to be very outspoken about it, and I probably have more Windows 98 content than most of the other surviving bloggers who were around in 98’s heyday. When it seems like 5 million surviving Windows 98 users have read me, it’s easy to assume there are more than that out there.

That “other” category is a pretty big number, around 12 million. Some of that will be machines hiding their identities by various means. Some of it will be operating systems like the BSDs and proprietary Unix. Some of it will be legacy systems, like pre-OS X Macintoshes, Amigas, and stuff like that. Most likely a sizeable percentage of it is cheap, dumb cellular phones with limited Internet capability like the Nokia phone I carried until this summer. It had an elementary web browser that was probably comparable to Internet Explorer 2.0, but it was adequate for checking weather forecasts and baseball scores. The data plan cost $5 per month. There are far, far more than 12 million phones like that out there, but the majority of people probably don’t bother to use the Internet on them.

And let’s put that 1.33 billion machines in context.

There are 6.8 billion people in the world. And I suppose my household has 6 devices that have been on the Internet this year, so they count toward that number. Many U.S. households do own multiple computers. So while 1.33 billion is a lot of computers, there are still a lot of people in the world who aren’t online.

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