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Windows usage isn't coming to an end -- it's just changing

Windows isn't in full decline, but a lot of devices now run other operating systems. That's part of the reason IT administrators should concentrate less on virtual desktops and more on Windows apps.

People talk about how Windows is dying, or that the PC is dead, but it's more that new technologies -- including advances in desktop virtualization -- are transforming the way users interact with Windows.

It's easy to get swept up in the negative hype, especially when you consider how many applications you and your employees use that aren't installed on Windows anymore. A more accurate picture is that Windows usage in the enterprise is changing and it holds a slightly smaller share of an expanding market. There are still many situations where it makes sense to replace PCs with Windows virtual desktops, but more companies in the future will their shift focus to delivering individual remote apps to workers.

Charting Windows' supposed demise

It might feel like Windows usage is on the decline, and according to NetMarketShare.com, it is. Windows' worldwide market share has declined from 95% in January 2009 -- the year Windows 7 was released -- to 91% in January 2016 -- a decline of 0.57% over the last seven years. There is a distinct downward trend, but it's not the precipitous drop that you've been led to believe. That huge drop could someday come, but for every one organization on the bleeding edge of technology, there are hundreds of others content to just run everything as-is until it breaks.

Despite the increased adoption of more modern platforms and services, Windows is the de facto OS, and these statistics only offer one perspective: how much Windows is in the world. They don't reflect the world that Windows exists in. In 2009 -- just two years after Apple released the iPhone -- there were roughly two billion devices in the world, and nearly every one of them was a PC running Windows. Today, there are three billion devices in the world, and though Windows is installed on the same number of devices as it was in 2009, there are another billion devices running things other than Windows. Overall Windows usage hasn't gone down; Windows' share of the pie is reduced because the pie is bigger.

Windows apps have longevity

Windows is still around for one reason: For all the modern applications, platforms and services people use, you still have Windows applications to deal with, and Windows apps need to run on Windows.

The day is coming when Windows won't matter to end users as much as it does today.

The real trend is not that the Windows OS is dying, but that users' reliance on the Windows desktop is declining, and that same trend carries over into desktop virtualization. In the past, the Windows desktop was the portal to everything users needed. It was a place to access applications and data, and employees counted on the desktop to organize everything. Over time, Windows virtual desktops and the complex back end that supports them grew into a hydra that required a lot of maintenance from IT.

Today, workers rely less on Windows virtual desktops. They can accomplish many of the workflows and tasks critical to our organizations -- email, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and more -- without actually using Windows applications. Still, only the newest, smallest or most advanced organizations have every core service on a mobile or cloud-based platform, and because of that, Windows will stick around.

This trend will ultimately result in Windows becoming middleware. It will become the thing applications need to work, but it won't be directly exposed to end users. People use Windows because the applications require it, but you won't need, want or feel compelled to deliver and manage full Windows virtual desktops because it simply won't be worth the effort.

How Windows usage will change

The day is coming when Windows won't matter to end users as much as it does today. Even if you don't expose the Windows desktop to users, Windows will still be there behind the scenes, which means you still need to manage it. You'll manage the OS the same way you do today, but managing and delivering applications doesn't need to be as complicated as it is now or has been in the past. Keep in mind the more you compartmentalize your apps today, the easier it will be to transition to single-app delivery tomorrow, and there are lots of technologies out there that enable you to do it.

Don't get caught up in the hype that VDI is the only way to go about remote Windows app delivery, and don't get fooled into thinking you're behind the times if you still use Windows. There's no need to rush, but you should be mindful that the shift will happen -- someday. Each company's tipping point will be different, so be ready for it when it comes.

Next Steps

IT pushing for Windows 10 adoption

Windows 10 hits 200 million users

Consider using RDSH if you don't need full desktops

Running Windows apps on mobile devices

This was last published in February 2016

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Is Windows usage in decline at your company, and if so, why?
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Not declining, but adding to our frustration.. Sometimes you are so far invested into it the cost for getting out by switching to the alternative is just not worth it. So we limp forward.
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Not really. Just as you said about devices, roughly not the number of Windows devices has decreased (in fact I'd suppose it actually increased) but the number of Non-Windows devices has dramatically increased. Same ist true with applications: All Windows applications are still there and most are more in use then ever, there are just so many new and fancy Non-Windows apps competing on anyone's attention, most of them doing things not suitable and also not generally needed on desktop computers. Next to none of them are really replacing Windows applications, besides those small mobile apps that allow to do a part of your work while you're on the road. And yes, just like for some consumers the iPad can be used for everything they used a PC before, these apps might be a replacement for road warriors who always felt misplaced when sitting in front of a PC, but for the majority of professionals this is far from reality right now. BTW, just ask that friend of yours who's doing that professional Lightroom and Photoshop works or that professional 4k Video editing works if he already changed to using an iOS or Android app instead...
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I Windows is losing it's luster, I can see more interest in mobile apps. The issue there is there are a lot more avenues like Android  and iOS. I tend to see more of these than Windows apps. 
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My view, as I expressed in my BriForum session last year, is that both Windows as well as legacy Windows apps (Windows Desktop apps, as Microsoft now calls them) are tied to the PC form factor. Windows will continue to be a central aspect of Enterprise IT for as long as the PC remains a central aspect of it. When the PC eventually dies - and I'm more aggressive about the time-frame for this than most - then so will Windows. And Windows Desktop apps will follow relatively quickly, in most cases, because they too are designed for the PC.

To be clear: I don't contend that today's mobile platforms will wholly replace the PC. But I do believe that sometime during the next decade or two some new platforms will be created that will finally oust the PC form factor.
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