Windows XP migrations offer temporary lifeline to sinking PC sales

Microsoft's cutoff of XP support prompted more organizations to upgrade to new computers, but PC shipments still dropped during the first quarter, say research firms IDC and Gartner.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
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Windows 8 is what Microsoft wants to see on PCs these days. Sarah Tew/CNET

The death of Windows XP support helped stem the strong tide of receding PC sales. But the future still looks bleak.

Revealing their estimates for first-quarter PC shipments on Wednesday, both IDC and Gartner pointed to XP migrations as a temporary white knight for the industry. PC refresh projects in the business world received a push from the end of XP support, particularly in Japan, according to IDC. Gartner echoed that sentiment.

"The end of XP support by Microsoft on April 8 has played a role in the easing decline of PC shipments," Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in a statement. "All regions indicated a positive effect since the end of XP support stimulated the PC refresh of XP systems. Professional desktops, in particular, showed strength in the quarter. Among key countries, Japan was greatly affected by the end of XP support, registering a 35 percent year-over-year increase in PC shipments."

The end of support for Windows XP means that Microsoft will no longer push out bug fixes, security patches, or other critical updates for the 13-year-old operating system. As such, businesses have been rushing to upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8 to ensure that their PCs remain safe and secure.

IDC and Gartner each offered different estimates for actual PC shipments. IDC preliminarily came up with first-quarter shipments of 73.4 million units, a downturn of 4.4 percent from the prior year's quarter. Though still a sign of ongoing weakness, the number fared better than IDC's forecast of a 5.3 decline.

Gartner's preliminary estimate for the quarter pegged PC shipments at 76.6 million, a drop of 1.7 percent from 2013's initial quarter. Gartner analyst Kitagawa said he expects the impact of XP migrations around the world to continue throughout the rest of the year.

But the move away from XP is a temporary reprieve in a shrinking market wounded by lower consumer demand.

"On the technology front, the transition to more mobile devices and usage modes is unlikely to stop, although the short term impact on PC shipments may slow as tablet penetration rises -- as we've begun to see in some mature regions," Loren Loverde, vice president of IDC's Worldwide PC Trackers, said in a statement. "The net result remains consistent with our past forecasts -- in particular, that there is potential for PC shipments to stabilize, but not much opportunity for growth."

Among PC vendors worldwide, Lenovo remained the top dog with around 17 percent of the market. HP trailed closely in second place followed by Dell, Acer, and Asus rounding up the top five.