Windows 7 is surging. After an insanely popular beta cycle, Microsoft's latest and greatest has exploded out of the gate, grabbing more than 4 percent of the real-world usage base as tracked by InfoWorld's Windows Pulse service -- after only a few weeks of general availability.
More tellingly, Windows 7 is grabbing a sizable chunk of our new users. Fully 10 percent of the most recent registrants are running some version of Windows 7, which is remarkable since, after three years in the market, Windows Vista still barely registers above the 30 percent level.
And even that number is beginning to erode: As Windows 7 picks up user share, it seems to be making most of its gains at the expense of Vista. In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between Windows 7 adoption and Vista abandonment, with the latter losing a percentage point and the former gaining the same in a little over a week.
Of course, the lion's share of our user base remains on Windows XP. And with this legacy OS holding steady at just under 64 percent, it seems clear that the fence-sitters in the Vista-versus-XP debate remain firmly seated on their perches. In fact, it wouldn't surprise anyone to see this early Windows 7 surge taper off as the enthusiast euphoria fades and is replaced by the slow, steady grind of the corporate refresh cycle.
Still, this is an encouraging result for Microsoft and shows that there is indeed pent-up demand for something better than Vista -- even if much of that demand seems to be coming from Vista adopters themselves. It will be interesting see if this one-for-one user share correlation continues in the coming weeks. Will anyone still be using Vista a year from now?
Another interesting angle to consider: How many new Windows 7 users are coming to the new OS via direct upgrades from Vista? One of the advantages to having a living repository of over 21,000 active sites is that we can conduct all sorts of cross-tabular analysis. If, for example, we want to compare OS upgrade rates, we can simply compare the current records for a given PC (identified by its NetBIOS machine name and make/model/BIOS details) to those from an earlier snapshot of the exo.repository, which hosts the data shown in Windows Pulse. (You can add your system's data -- anonymously, of course -- by signing up for InfoWorld's Windows Sentinel and OfficeBench tool, which also lets you moniutor your own PCs's performance.)
In fact, we'll be doing exactly this sort of analysis in the coming weeks. Similarly, we'll be looking at changes in memory configurations to see if users are upgrading existing PCs with more RAM as part of a move from the less demanding XP to the more top-heavy Windows 7.
Of course, the big question is whether XP shops will finally migrate away from this nearly nine-year-old OS. So far, Vista is seeing the bulk of the user share erosion. If this trend continues, it's quite conceivable that Microsoft could see Windows 7's growth stall as the flood of Vista converts runs its course and the XP holdouts stand their ground.
Such an outcome would be disastrous for Microsoft. It desperately needs to regain control of the Windows release cycle with Windows 7, and simply swapping out the Vista community -- which, by all accounts, is ready to move almost immediately -- isn't going to do the trick.