Why Windows Dominates Desktops

According to the well-respected analytic site Net Market Share, Windows currently enjoys a whopping 88.79% of the total desktop operating system market share. Mac comes in a distant second with a paltry 8.41% and Linux third, with a measly 2.42%. Why is it so?

I think it’s fair to say that the dismal numbers for both Linux and Mac very much reflect limited appeal to what can only be described as a niche market. Linux’s failure, in particular, to grab end users’ attention is quite remarkable, especially when one considers that the totally free Linux platform has now been around for more than 26 years in multiple (currently over 500) various iterations.

There are many reasons why Linux and Mac have failed to make any sort of significant impact but, in my opinion, the main overriding reason is software availability.

Superior Hardware vs Comprehensive Software

Many years ago, when VCRs were first introduced into Australia, a battle royale took place between two formats, Betamax and VHS. Beta has long been considered the superior system and is, in fact, still used by TV and film companies today, yet lost out badly to VHS, to the extent where Beta became extinct within 18 short months. The reason was simply due to software availability.

With the advent of VCRs, dozens of video rental stores sprung up seemingly overnight. The VHS people were really smart operators who offered their prerecorded video cassettes to these stores on a consignment basis, whereas the Beta people insisted that stores pay for all prerecorded video cassettes up front. The logical result being, when the consumer walked into one of these stores they were confronted by shelves full of VHS tapes and only a very small section of Beta tapes to choose from. It was this lack of choice within the Beta cassette section which subsequently sounded Beta’s death knell, even though the hardware (the player itself) was generally considered to be superior.

Throughout technological history there have been many similar examples of very good hardware systems failing with consumers because of lack of support for compatible software. This then is what I believe is the main issue for both Linux and Mac and why Windows continues to dominate the desktop market.

Linux/Mac Software vs Windows Software

For many years I’ve run both Windows and Linux, but Windows has always been my main (go to) operating system and, while I could certainly do without Linux, I could never get by without Windows. That’s mainly down to a lack of suitable quality software for the Linux platform. Just one simple example, being a tech writer it’s imperative for me to have a versatile screen capture tool on hand. Linux offers several, the very best of which is reputed to be a program called “Shutter”. Now, I’ve tried all these Linux screen capture programs and they are, quite frankly, rubbish. Even the well-reputed “Shutter” is way below at least half a dozen free offerings for the Windows platform– in terms of feature set, versatility, and effectiveness, they are simply not comparable!

This is true in so many cases. Search for specific software in the Windows platform and, more often than not, you’ll find multiple quality free offerings, so much so that the user is often confused as to which one to choose… they are all so good. Now, try the same thing in the Linux platform. The situation with Mac is very similar. Look for a specific program within the Mac platform and you’ll most likely find only one, or possibly two, suitable programs, which you will probably have to pay for.

There is no doubt that Mac hardware is top quality, solid and durable. However, with comparatively limited software choices from within a propriety ecosystem, Mac will never even get close to challenging Windows… that’s a fact! Similarly, as per the aforementioned example, Linux suffers badly in this area. Linux offers a range of terrific free operating systems within a totally free ecosystem but cannot even come close to matching Windows’ diverse and comprehensive range of quality software. Unfortunately, software developers recognize the appeal, demand, and dollars associated with Windows software when compared to spending time and resources developing software for the Linux platform. It’s just a fact of life.

There are other contributing factors of course, but I firmly believe that this lack of comprehensive software support for both the Linux and Mac platforms is the major reason for their lack of appeal among consumers and subsequent poor showing in the market place. Sure, people might complain about Windows, many people about many various aspects but, in the main, they are prepared to put up with comparatively minor inconveniences, or even more serious grievances, just so they can still run their favorite programs, or enjoy the freedom of choice provided by a comprehensive range of quality software.

NOTE: I haven’t mentioned the gaming aspect in this dissertation. Although I do recognize that gaming is definitely a consideration, it is also a well known and widely discussed consideration. The aim was to try to understand why Mac, and Linux in particular, have failed to grab the attention of your average Joe users who, after all, do account for the vast majority.

Bonus: Windows 10’s Current Market Share

Here is the current breakdown for Windows versions market share (as of 28th February 2018):

Cheers… Jim

21 thoughts on “Why Windows Dominates Desktops”

  1. Truly another excellent exploding article Jim. I’ve dabbled with Linux several times and kept being drawn back to Windows. Reading your article reminded me as to the why – lack of free quality software. The Beta example was a nice flash back. Hardware needs Software for users to get on board, and here the operating systems take the place of hardware.

    Sadly, am at a loss seeing my beloved 8.1 at the bottom of the Windows market, Mindblower!

    1. If it’s any consolation MB, I don’t believe that the poor numbers for Windows 8.1 necessarily reflects on the operating system per se, more that Windows 10 was a FREE upgrade – and you know how people tend to flock to anything FREE. 🙂

  2. I still contend that Linux is not a replacement for Windows. It can however be used to extend the usefulness for older PC’s, whether they are running XP, Vista, W7 or W8. If my Windows PC was running all the software that I have invested in, and all I needed was an OS to access and browse the internet, then Linux would be my choice, regardless of market shares.
    If you are still running Mint, and feed up, with the PW Prompt, then you should take a look at what I put in the Linux Forum. This basicly does the same thing as when one disables the UAC in Windows, just a little more involved than just a click with the mouse.

    1. I tend to agree Daniel that Linux is generally not a replacement for Windows. However, in cases where a user only wants/needs to send and receive emails and do the odd bit of surfing the net, it is more than adequate.

      That said, many users have a specific interest/pursuit/hobby which often requires a specific software and it’s in this area where Linux tends to fall down.

  3. Hi “Gramps, how are the grandkids, great I hope. Its been quite a while since I posted to one of your articles. While its true that Windows dominates the market, I don’t fully agree with some of your reasoning. Having worked with computers for nearly 60 years (both professionally and personally), I think I have a fairly decent idea why Windows has a virtual monopoly on the desktop/laptop market.
    First, lets knock off why Apple’s share is so small. Initially, its product quality and pricing made it the “Cadillac” of desktops even way back when (late 70s, early 80s) when most people were on “beer budgets” when it came to PCs. Remember. you had your TRS80s, your Commodores, your Ataris, etc. It remained the case even when IBM decided to dip its toe into the PC “hobbyist” market. I don’t know if IBM ever made an overture to Jobs, but they did to Kildall (DRI), who eventually turned them down. They ended up with Gates and, of course, that led to Windows having the foothold into the business world where people would use MS/DOS (later Windows) at work and then at home with the cheap IBM clones running Windows exclusively. So Apple never gained a strong foothold in the business world. I digress.
    Regardless, Apple also kept a tight rein on what S/W would run on their machines whereas MS/DOS (later Windows) had a ton of people developing S/W hoping to make a quick buck. Some of it evolved into decent products, which MS either bought out or “put out of business”.
    Second, Linux came along in the early 90s, basically a Unix clone. By then, MS was fairly entrenched in the business environment. Early Linux was “command line” and when X Windows was made available, it was not an easy install even for a savvy user. The usability of Linux (more than just the kernel) was beyond the scope of the average PC user who usually knew how to press the power button and start up the few S/W programs needed.
    It wasn’t until Ubuntu came along (2004) with the Gnome desktop that Linux started to gain “greater” popularity. A couple of things to keep in mind. When it comes to the server market, Linux dominates with around 87% of the market. If you throw in tablets and phones, the numbers go even higher as Android is Linux-based. Even IOS and MacOS is FreeBSD based (another Unix clone).
    Third, the desktop/laptop market is less than 50% of the device market today and declining, Wikipedia has a breakdown of market share ( ).
    One last point, there are still many banks using IBM’s OS/2 system (better security than Windows as is IOS and Linux).

    1. Hey Bob, Grandkids are all fine, thanks mate.

      I take your points but, quite frankly, I fail to see what on earth “server” and “mobile” have to do with desktop market share. I am well aware of Linux’s penetration in the server and mobile areas, however, in the context of this article, that’s totally irrelevant.

      In the end, the fact remains that after 26 years and goodness knows how many distros later (and despite the fact that the vast majority are totally free) Linux has still only managed to snare an insignificant 2.42% share of the total desktop market. To me, regardless of debate and/or allegiances, that pretty much says it all.

      I would also dispute the assertion that Mac and Linux provide “better security”. It’s been proven beyond doubt, through many instances of those hackfests involving experienced hackers, that both Mac and Linux are equally vulnerable to attack as Windows. They may give the illusion of better security but that is is only because, with their extremely limited target base, most cyber criminals tend to ignore them and concentrate exclusively on Windows where they can reap the greatest rewards.

      BTW: According to the reputable and trustworthy Net Market Share, browsing by device currently sits as follows: Desktop/laptop: 50.79%. Mobile/tablet: 49.19%.

  4. Hi Jim,

    While I can’t speak to the Australian market, here in the U.S. I was around thru the inception and battle between Beta and VHS. It was a lot longer than 18 months here, and I owned quite a few Beta machines over the years. Software availability (ie, meaning commercial tapes) was close to equal, as rental stores were divided about 50-50 with each format.

    The deciding factor here was Sony’s licensing requirements for HARDWARE and that they could not come to agreement with RCA who was the big “home entertainment” player at the time in the States — they ended up going with the VHS format when things were very much up in the air. If they (and Zenith) had backed Beta instead we wouldn’t be having this discussion, for as you hinted at, Beta was clearly the superior format. VHS won because of the much looser licensing and the preponderance of inexpensive VHS hardware, which then in turn, drove the software.

  5. I am not in anyway an expert despite having started ‘computing’ with the Sinclair Spectrum, but it is nice to see MS being complemented on making good decisions for a change, but what about mobile? I have an Android Tablet and (yes its true) a Windows “Lumia’ 45 Phone I love but alas I am not going to be able to replace when it dies. On the other hand I think the way MS is working / integrating with Android (and OS) instead of keeping aloof is very good, I use a number of MS apps on my Android.

    I have a question. How is it we can get so many genuinely free apps for Windows? In other words what is their business model? I have one which is very upfront about asking for donations, displaying a list of what it receives from different countries. It makes real money, more than a hundred thousand GB pounds each year. I expect this is very much the exception. I am sure you are right about the flow of good free (or cheap) software being a key element in the success of Windows.

    1. Hey Clayto,

      I cannot speak for the mobile app market, having had practically zero experience in that department. However, as far as desktop software goes, I can imagine developers pondering their potential market and, as part of the process, taking into consideration the comparative sizes of each consumer base. The outcome has to be a forgone conclusion, does is not. Windows really is a no brainer.

  6. With regards to Linux not having a huge market share– there’d be the matter of it not being advertised. That would have quite a lot to do with it, don’t you think?

    As a full-time Linux user for years now, I can’t say that I miss any of the MS world. Just the other day, my son was working and needed to go to work. He shutdown his MS laptop & it began updating- “do not turn off your computer”. He didn’t want to chance it, so he missed his bus & was late to work. He said that when he finally got there & started the laptop, it continued to update for another 10 minutes. How wonderful (not!). I get my system updates when I want, what I want, & I never have to shut down or restart– I can just keep working. Thank you very much!

    I personally find the available & all-free software to be excellent. Pretty great to just open the software manager & have a browse>one-click install. You mention Shutter, and I use that every day & love it! I especially appreciate the snip/screenshot>export to online image host– all from within the Shutter program. Nifty.

    The only gaming done by me is on Steam- so that’s all good. Second Life also runs great- though I don’t have as much time in there as I’d like. We have consoles for the rest.

    I have MS VM’s loaded in Virtualbox so that I can “see” an OS whenever I get a “help” phone call from a MS user– so VM’s work well, too.

    I agree w/Bob C: MS snagged DOS at the inception of things and bought out or ran out the smaller competitors as quickly as possible. Apple had their video/Photoshop/audio niche and Linux wasn’t really around then as a desktop OS.


    1. Sure, you can blame lack of advertising. You could also blame the alignment of the stars, or maybe the Chinese. 🙂 However, in my experience, if something is superior, word of mouth will more often than not take care of the rest. And if 26 years is not enough time for word of mouth to take effect…..

      I don’t know about in the US but here in Oz, I cannot remember when or where I last saw an ad for Windows, or even if I ever have.

      1. girldownunder

        The point was that MS took over at the start & only they & Apple were around & advertising for years. By the time Linux was to the point of end-user GUI, it was a done deal. Just because something is free doesn’t = people leaving what they know for an unknown– even a free (& in many cases, superior) unknown. They’ll stick to their familiar, even if it’s not so good.

        That’s why the shops like Hardly Normal get given free AV by the big guys– then they “sell” it for a tidy profit– because the AV guys, like Norton, KNOW humans are creatures of habit. Once they have they have their AV installed, these folks’ll pony-up the renewal just because it’s too much trouble to change. I see it day after day…

        And, I actually see plenty of MS advertising– in fact, a whole lot of it comes through the computer itself. There’s more when you go into the shops– stickers/placards/banners– just depends on the shop (likewise, w/Apple).

        1. By that reasoning, any early adopters of new technology should still be dominating the market place today – regardless of what superior alternatives might have come along in the interim. Clearly, that is definitely not the case.

          I do see your point Tracy and could probably accept it to a degree if Linux was say batting 30%, 20%, or even 10% of the desktop operating system market. But 2.42%, c’mon!

          BTW: I thought we were talking about advertising in regards to Windows, not Microsoft. I too have seen ads for Microsoft, but they have mainly been ads for the Surface Pro, which is hardware, not an operating system.

  7. I always thought Linux would be the perfect platform for the “granny” computer. There are so many seniors who are getting into the onlines scene and are totally freaked out about Windows and big software with so many options and pitfalls. I support a number of them.
    If there was a smart cookie out there who could put together a hardware package run by Linux with some basic software like a decent browser (nothing too fancy), a good email program, and a simple word processor with a simple spreadsheet, I think it could be marketed to seniors who are scared of a big Windows system.
    For safety reasons this whole package would be burned onto a chip that is easily and cheaply replaceable annually with any needed updates.
    Now you have a tank like system that the users cannot screw up and hackers cannot occupy. Yet, at the same time performs the basics that most seniors want.
    The system would need to allow for the addition of a few add-ons like printers, cameras, etc. and the ability to run a limited number of outside programs like some games, simple image management, etc. all sold and controlled by the manufacturer of the system. A fairly closed system, even more so than Apple.

    1. girldownunder

      Hi Tom,

      I’ve actually installed Linux on quite a few of our senior’s PC’s & it’s been all good, so far. One fella was so happy he went online and signed up to beginners class to learn more- lol.

      1. I tried to install several Linux bundled software over the years only to find errors, which prevented the install process. Too long ago to remember the exact errors. But I was able to download and use several Linux systems. Not knowing what to download was a problem by itself. Went on to several boards, reading along, to see if I could get the assist I wanted. Found some of the products not to my liking, so as time went by, so did my love for Linux.

        Growing up in the prompt age, I did not find it difficult adjusting to the older Linux systems and programs. It’s been several years now since I last gave Linux a try, and with more free time thought it would be the ideal time. It might happen. Each try in the past was not a pleasant memory.

        On the point of teaching seniors, I find it odd that the instructors use actual Microsoft products as learning tools. These programs cost. Find using free software like OpenOffice just as good, for my limited use, Mindblower!

  8. I have lived through various iterations of Microsoft, from MSDOS 3.2, Windows 3.1, Windows95, 98, 2000, XP, and Windows 7. That’s 30 years of upgrading only to find that drivers for niche peripherals are no longer available. XP worked great for me, and I only upgraded to 7 because Microsoft stopped providing security updates. More hardware no longer recognized. My Dell Latitude laptop with Windows 7 installed can’t see the docking station it’s attached to, and Dell doesn’t provide an update. I refuse to upgrade to Windows 10 on my personal computers.

    Most of my lifetime learning of Windows has been job related, meaning I learned Windows during the work day. I’ve been wanting to switch to Linux for years, but my current full time job keeps me busy, and I’m finding I have no free time available (turning 20 acres into a homestead, with bees) to sit down and do what I want with Linux.

    My next PC will be Linux based, but I’m sure, based on past experiences, that I won’t be able to fully migrate to Linux until all I verify that drivers for my hardware is available (and compatible).

    1. Hi James,

      You make a good point regarding drivers. However, to a large extent, that is generally no longer a major issue with the modern Linux distros. Unless, of course, there is a rare piece of hardware or uncommon peripheral involved.

      I remember many years ago, when I was running Ubuntu, I downloaded and installed the latest Ubuntu version and it would not connect to the internet. I popped over to a leading Ubuntu forum seeking advice and was told that I needed to download a patch and apply same from within the operating system. I pointed out the obvious; if I was unable to connect to the internet from within the operating system how the heck was I supposed to download and apply a patch? Mission impossible!

      Eventually, a senior member of the Ubuntu team came onto the forum and admitted that they’d stuffed up and should have immediately released a fresh ISO which included the much needed patch.

      I do hope you can locate the necessary drivers and enjoy your Linux to its fullest.

      Cheers… Jim

    1. Good to hear Daniel.

      The term “failed”, in the context of this article, was not meant as a slur against Linux as an operating system. I’ve run Linux and Windows side-by-side for many years and like them both. What I meant was that Linux has generally failed to grab desktop users’ attention/imagination, as clearly indicated by its dismal market share. Success or failure of any product is usually assessed based on popularity, and a 2.42% market share does not exactly scream success.

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