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Early adopters boost Leopard sales for Apple

Roughly the same percentage of the Mac OS X installed base upgraded to Leopard over the weekend as the percentage of the Windows installed base that has upgraded to Vista in nine months.

About 9 percent of the Mac OS X installed base upgraded to Mac OS X Leopard over the weekend, according to figures released by Apple and estimates supplied by financial analysts.

Apple sold 2 million copies of Leopard between Friday and Sunday night, which includes sales of boxed copies, online sales, and new Macs with Leopard preinstalled. When Apple launched Tiger, it took the company 39 days to hit the 2 million mark on a much smaller installed base.

Apple sold two million copies of Leopard between Friday night's launch event and Sunday. CNET Networks

Piper Jaffray released a research note Tuesday estimating that the Mac OS X installed base is around 23 million users at the moment, as compared with the 12 million Mac users that existed in April 2005 when Tiger launched. At the 2007 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the Mac OS X installed base was 22 million users.

It's tough to get a direct comparison, but because everyone loves comparisons, Microsoft sold 20 million copies of Windows Vista in the first month it went on sale. Earlier this year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the Windows installed base would be around 1 billion users by the end of the company's 2008 fiscal year, which comes to a close next June. And as of last week, it had sold 88 million copies of Vista.

Likewise, it's tough to get a sense of the current installed base of Windows PCs. If you subtract some generous projections for PC shipments over the next nine months from the 1 billion target, you get around 800 million Windows users. That's far from a perfect number, however, since many of the PCs that will be purchased between now and next June will most likely replace older Windows PCs.

Still, people in emerging markets are buying PCs for the first time--and buying a lot of them--so the expansion of the Windows installed base does move in step with the expansion of the overall market to a certain degree. Let's split the difference and assume there are 900 million Windows users as of right now. That would be mean that almost the same percentage of Windows users have upgraded to Vista in nine months as the percentage of Mac users that upgraded to Leopard in two days.

Let's be clear: these are different types of markets, and they have different motivations for upgrading. Almost all the Vista upgrades so far have been consumer and small business purchases, and businesses will probably start to upgrade in greater numbers next year following the release of Vista Service Pack 1 and as the PCs bought during the boom years of 2004 and 2005 begin to age.

Still, it's pretty clear the Mac installed base was more excited about Leopard than the Windows installed base was about Vista. Maybe that's because Mac users hold onto their machines for a longer period of time and like to upgrade, while Windows users just wait until they need a new PC. Or perhaps it's because Apple does a better job marketing its releases, or because Windows customers have been trained to wait until the first service pack comes out before upgrading. Any way you slice it, however, it's interesting stuff.