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Windows XP clings to No. 2 spot as Windows 10 gets closer

With Microsoft on the cusp of its next OS leap forward, the 13-year-old XP still is more popular than Windows 8 and 8.1 combined.

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Windows XP is still alive and kicking. Net Applications

Windows XP continues its descent among desktop operating systems, though it's far from dead and buried.

Looking at the overall Web traffic for desktop operating systems across the globe, Net Applications gave XP a 16.9 percent share for the month of March, a hefty drop from the 19.1 percent recorded in February.

Though XP's grip on the market continues to loosen, it remains the No. 2 most-used operating system based on Net Application's Web stats, beating Windows 8 and 8.1 and their collective share of 14 percent. Windows 8.1 took the third spot with a 10.5 percent share, leaving Windows 8 in fifth place with just 3.5 percent.

Windows 7 holds the top spot, with a share of 58 percent.

The enduring hold of the 13-year-old Windows XP on PC users underscores the challenges Microsoft has faced as it tries to move ahead with new versions of its flagship operating system, which the company says has more than 1.5 billion users around the world. The staying power has even proven resistant to Microsoft's end of support for XP a year ago, which put an end to bug fixes and and other patches, leaving users more vulnerable to security threats.

There are ripple effects as well. Last month, chipmaker Intel slashed nearly $1 billion off its quarterly revenue outlook, in large part because small and midsize businesses have been reluctant to upgrade from Windows XP -- a popular but now 13-year-old operating system. PC makers, such as Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Acer, would also feel a pinch from slower refreshes from Windows XP.

The next leap forward comes this summer when Microsoft plans to release Windows 10, which among other things aims to avoid the missteps of Windows 8 and to provide a consistent software experience across devices including desktops, laptops, smartphones and even Internet of Things gear including ATMs and ultrasound machines.

With Windows 10 arriving soon, what choices are available to those who want to upgrade?

For users of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, Microsoft is offering free upgrades to Windows 10 for the first year. That means you can download and install Windows 10 for free and directly upgrade your existing PC. But users still running Windows XP or Vista won't be able to ugprade their PCs directly to Windows 10, according to Microsoft. That leaves them the choice of upgrading to Windows 8.1 and then to Windows 10 or simply buying a new PC this summer already equipped with Windows 10.

Currently available as a technical preview, Windows 10 has been showing up as a blip on Net Applications' radar. For March, the new OS took home a share of just under 0.1 percent.