How Microsoft has kept Windows on top for two decades

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If you own a PC, chances are it’s running Windows, the operating system that Microsoft has offered since 1985.

Even with people buying modern Macs with energy-sipping Arm chips, and even with some students and corporate workers picking up Chromebooks during the pandemic, Windows still holds on 83% market share for personal computers, according to technology industry research company Gartner. It’s been in the pole position uninterrupted since Gartner kept keeping track in 2000, and probably for at least a decade before that as well.

Today Windows represents 14% of Microsoft’s total revenue, and historically Windows has been more profitable than other parts of the $2 trillion company. When Windows grows, Microsoft benefits.

So the company is once again refreshing Windows with the announcement of Windows 11 on June 24. New system requirements might cause some people to purchase new PCs capable of running Windows 11, and that would boost Microsoft’s Windows franchise.

Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft Corp., listens to audience questions at the Microsoft Annual Shareholders Meeting in Bellevue, Washington on November 30, 2016.

Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

The Windows track record hasn’t always been perfect. It took a few releases to gain popularity over its character-based predecessor, DOS. Some versions, including Windows Vista and Windows 8, were poorly received. And when smartphones emerged in the 2000s, and Microsoft wasn’t able to achieve the same pervasiveness as it did on PCs. “We missed the phone wave,” said Yusuf Mehdi, a corporate vice president who has been at Microsoft for almost three decades.

But over the years Microsoft made Windows easier to use, with additions such as the Start menu, and made upgrades free. And because many organizations have become used to deploying Windows alongside other Microsoft products, it’s natural for them to stick with Windows. And so Windows has managed to keep growing.

Microsoft wants to keep it that way. It’s adding one of the features of Chromebooks — Android apps — to Windows 11. Stores will stock PCs featuring the new release in time for the holiday season.



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