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Windows by the numbers: Windows share shrinks, Linux surges ... wait, Linux?

Windows’ share of all operating systems took a tumble in April, the first full month that corporate and government officials urged people to stay at home and work there if possible, as the coronavirus pandemic surged.

According to analytics company Net Applications, Windows accounted for 86.9% of global OS share in April, a decline of 2.3 percentage points. That was the largest loss by Windows since November 2017, when Net Applications made major adjustments to its numbers after purging its data of bogus traffic originating from criminals’ “bots.”

The decline of Windows overall had a ripple effect, causing individual editions, such as Windows 10, to have similarly large losses. When measured as a portion of all Windows, however, the editions’ declines, if present at all, were much less significant.

And because operating system share is zero-sum – when one OS goes down, another has to go up – April saw major advances by two non-Microsoft operating systems. Apple’s macOS climbed by eight-tenths of a percentage point, reaching 9.8%, its highest mark since March 2019. And Linux – all distributions – shot up by a remarkable 1.5 points to end April at 2.9%, its highest mark since October 2017 (and just before the Net Applications data revamp).

Although the macOS increase was understandable, perhaps triggered by people using personal Macs while working from home rather than on a corporate-owned Windows machine, the big uptick in Linux was puzzling. Did every IT professional boot up an at-home Linux box to remotely manage his or her employer’s endpoints, servers and network? Or was the number a Net Applications counting error or an artifact of its weighting system?

One suspect that immediately jumped out from the data was Ubuntu, which Net Applications pegged at a whopping 1.9% during April (or 66% of the Linux total), a gigantic increase from the three-tenths of a percentage point the month prior (and the three-tenths of a point in February, too). That there were suddenly millions more machines running the Canonical distribution in April than in March seemed unlikely, to say the least. Net Applications may have miscounted.

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