Statistics, Mac OS and Windows

A Web research firm said earlier this week that its data indicates Mac OS use isn't growing this year, even though market research firms like NPD and IDC say otherwise.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read

Quoth Homer: "Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of people know that."

Something's a little weird about the data reported earlier this week by Net Applications, a Web traffic research firm, on global operating-system share. Net Applications tracks what types of computers are accessing the Web sites of its global network of clients, and it thinks that Mac OS X share is flat this year, while Windows Vista use is soaring.

The specific numbers quoted? Vista share is up to about 4.5 percent of Web users from virtually nothing in February, while Mac OS share has slipped from 6.38 percent in February to 6 percent in June, with the implication that Vista is eating into Mac OS sales.

This seems in stark contrast to what others are saying. Both the NPD Group and IDC have recently reported that Apple's Mac shipments have outpaced the overall market in the first half of the year. And Acer President Gianfranco Lanci has gotten a lot of attention for his comments that Vista adoption has been disappointing, with his PC company receiving lots of requests for Windows XP machines, not Vista.

So, let's look a little closer at Net Applications' data. Vince Vizzaccaro, executive vice president of marketing for Net Applications, said his company's network of 400,000 Web sites mostly includes small and medium-size businesses, but also a few consumer-oriented powerhouses like Best Buy. Net Applications makes software called Hitslink that lets those sites track what types of computer users are coming to their sites, and reports the aggregate data amassed by all of its clients.

Vizzaccaro thinks his company's data is more immediate than market share data, in that in can show trends more quickly than shipment data. He thinks there are two possibilities shown by the most recent Hitslink data: either older Mac users are turning in their Macs for Vista PCs, or Vista is growing faster than Mac OS.

If Mac users are indeed being persuaded to switch to Windows PCs by the introduction of Vista, that would be the first time I've heard that theory. If anybody out there can support that one, I'd definitely like to know, but let's toss that aside for a moment.

Of course Vista is going to grow faster than Mac OS. Just about every Windows PC (with a few notable exceptions) sold since February comes with Vista. Everyone seems to agree that the PC market is relatively healthy these days, so Vista adoption is going to grow with the pace of the PC market, and faster than the overall market because it's starting from nothing.

Let's look at the overall trends since last summer. The combination of Windows PCs (Win 2000, XP and Vista) visiting Hitslink sites in July 2006 accounted for 90.39 percent of traffic. Of course, there was no Vista then. This June, the same combination accounted for 90.46 percent of traffic, implying that if Vista is eating into anything, it's Windows XP and Windows 2000 usage.

The same comparison applied to Mac OS X? Last year, the combination of Intel-based Macs and older Macs accounted for 4.29 percent of traffic to Hitslink's sites. This June, it was 6 percent of traffic, with Intel-based Macs growing as PowerPC Macs decline.

So compared with last year, Mac OS usage is increasing faster than Windows usage. But I'm still skeptical of using these stats to project any kind of trend in the broader market, given the sample size. Netcraft says that as of November, there were 100 million Web sites on the Internet. And that number is growing faster than either company's operating system sales or the nauseating hype behind The Simpsons Movie (which I'm still going to have to go see).