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Reality Check: Windows 8 Outpaces OS X Mavericks by More Than 5 to 1

My opinion of Apple CEO Tim Cook has grown significantly in the years since he assumed control of one of the world’s most important companies. After stepping up to the challenge during a difficult and trying time, he has kept Apple pointed in the right direction, despite a few mistakes [1] along the way. That trend continued Monday morning when, with the help of an excellent performance from Apple SVP Craig Federighi [2], Mr. Cook’s company delivered a historic WWDC keynote address, the full implications of which will shape Apple and the industry for years to come.

But in the midst of all of this progress and success, Mr. Cook continues to baffle me by occasionally wasting time on meaningless and often misleading statistics and figures, exercises that are often petty jabs at competitor Microsoft. I’ve talked about this practice [3] in the past, and I continue to hope with each passing Apple milestone that he’ll finally rise above this absurdity. Alas, Monday’s WWDC keynote did not see my hope fulfilled.

Early into the keynote, Mr. Cook lauded the adoption rate of OS X Mavericks. Launched just last October, the operating system is, according to Apple, running on 51 percent of all Macs currently in use. It’s a fantastic adoption rate for a desktop operating system, and it’s something that Mr. Cook and his employees should be truly proud of.

WWDC 2014 Mavericks vs Windows 8 Adoption

But instead of leaving it at that, Mr. Cook felt the need to take a jab at “frenemy [4]” Microsoft and its notorious Windows 8 operating system. As Mr. Cook explained with a smirk, Windows 8 has an install base of only 14 percent of all Windows-based PCs currently in use, despite being on the market a full year longer than Mavericks. How sad for poor Microsoft, Mr. Cook implied to the laughter of the crowd.

Like similar claims that Mr. Cook has made in recent months, however, the truth of the comparison is meaningless, and just a few minutes of research reveals a statistic that Apple executives would never acknowledge: In terms of raw usage, Windows 8 blows OS X out of the water.

Right before making the comparison to Windows, Mr. Cook provided some interesting data on the state of Mac usage. With 40 million downloads of OS X Mavericks, and a Mavericks install base of 51 percent, the current overall Mac install base works out to around 78.5 million. Again, if Mr. Cook had simply stopped here, there’d be no problem, but he continued on with a comparison to Windows.

WWDC 2014 OS X Mavericks DownloadsMr. Cook was roughly correct in his assessment of the state of Windows 8 adoption. Based on NetMarketShare [5] data, as of May 2014, Windows 8 can be found on about 14 percent of all PCs currently running Windows. But with an overall market share of about 1.5 billion, Windows PCs represent nearly 91 percent of all computers in use worldwide. In simple terms, that means that Windows 8, widely considered a “failure” by critics and competitors, is in use on about 210 million PCs worldwide. That’s more than 5 times the install base of Mavericks, and more than 2.5 times the install base of every Mac currently in use.

It’s also worth noting that Windows maintains this lead even though it doesn’t share OS X Mavericks’ “free” price point. Further, the NetMarketShare data monitors operating system share for computers that are actually in use and connected to the Internet. Apple, meanwhile, measured Mavericks in terms of “copies installed,” which may be a statistic larger than the number of Macs with Mavericks actually in use (here at TekRevue, for example, we’ve downloaded and installed Mavericks at least 20 times since its public launch as we built and re-built test systems, performed troubleshooting, and set up virtual machines, but only have four Macs actively running the operating system). It’s not clear how Apple is exactly measuring this, but all of these caveats are to say that Windows 8 has a comparatively huge install base despite several factors that aren’t in its favor.

Apple and Tim Cook don’t need to keep venturing into the realm of garbage statistics

Now, I can feel the blood boiling in some of you as you read this. Who the $#!&@ is this guy? Doesn’t he realize that Tim was just trying to show developers how successful the OS X platform is with upgrade adoption? What a loser! Yeah, yeah, I get it. But here’s the thing: in terms of a truly independent developer who is debating between creating apps for OS X or Windows, Mr. Cook is trying to mislead them.

First, it’s a safe bet that any developer who paid to attend WWDC is already committed to Apple’s platforms, so in that context Mr. Cook’s comments might be excused as simply a fun jab at the big evil Microsoft for the benefit of Apple’s biggest fans. But it’s absurd to argue that Mr. Cook isn’t fully aware that the entire developed world is paying attention to WWDC in some shape or form, and so we know that many new and existing developers pay close attention to the conference to help them decide the future of their apps and companies.

Second, it’s clear that Mr. Cook’s overt purpose in the comparison was to tell these potential developers, “hey, come develop for OS X because a greater percentage of our users are running the most current versions of our software.” And, in a beautiful illustration of the phrase “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics [6],” the two pie charts present a startling contrast that would make less careful observers think that OS X was eating Windows’ lunch.

But a percentage is meaningless without context. I could fork Linux into the TekRevue OS, install it on five computers, and claim that “100 percent of TekRevue OS users are running the latest version!” Despite that impressive statistic, any developer would be foolish to waste the resources to craft software for such a platform.

And that’s not to say that OS X is bad, or that Windows is somehow better. Windows 8 does have some problems (although they’ve been blown way out of proportion by many in the media), and OS X is the most commonly used operating system here at TekRevue, but the truth behind Tim Cook’s charts is that Windows 8, the so-called “failure,” is in use by more people around the world than all versions of OS X combined. And if you’re a developer deciding between Windows and OS X, your audience will be significantly larger if you join Redmond’s team.

There are, of course, many more factors that developers consider aside from total usage share, and OS X provides tons of exclusive APIs, tools, and technologies that aren’t available to developers on any other platform. So why not just focus on the good? Go ahead and laud Mavericks and iOS, highlight the amazing tools available to Apple developers, share all manner of sappy marketing that shows how Apple devices and software are changing the world.

But stop venturing into the realm of garbage statistics. It’s beneath the company and its executives, and it casts a distasteful and completely unnecessary shadow over an otherwise monumental series of announcements.