This week, market researchers at Forrester published two separate reports about Windows 7 adoption and satisfaction, providing Microsoft with another round of good news for its latest OS. But in addition to high satisfaction rates and broad consumer awareness, Windows 7 has also benefited from some interesting and unique market dynamics that didn't affect its predecessor, Windows Vista.
According to Forrester, earlier adopters—those consumers who adopted Windows 7 in late 2009—are "generally very satisfied" with their new PCs running Windows 7. And Windows 7 has "penetrated the consciousness of the market," with a "strong majority" of US consumers being aware of the Windows 7 product and brand. This is likely due to the popular Windows 7 TV advertisements, but also to strong word of mouth.
Forrester noted that the most surprising trend around Windows 7 is that users were upgrading existing PCs to the new OS in far higher numbers than with previous Windows versions. That's because Windows 7 is "a thinner client program" than its predecessor Windows Vista was, making Windows 7 a better upgrade candidate.
What Forrester doesn't note—and I think this is perhaps more interesting—is that most of those consumers performing such an "upgrade" are actually wiping out their previous OS and installing Windows 7 from scratch. This "non-upgrade upgrade" is required because Windows 7 does not support in-place upgrades from the more popular Windows version, Windows XP. This somewhat refutes Forrester's claim that Windows 7 is "a less burdensome OS than Windows Vista," which did support in-place upgrades from XP. But it also speaks to consumers' desires to run the new OS. Despite the pain involved in installing Windows 7 from scratch, many users have in fact elected to do just that.
This is all the more impressive when you consider how consumers typically acquire Windows. Microsoft has told me in the past that over 95 percent of retail Windows sales are copies of the OS that come with a new PC. But according to Forrester, that's not the case with Windows 7. With this version of the OS, 45 percent of Windows 7 owners in North America acquired the OS with a new PC. And a whopping 43 percent purchased a retail version of Windows 7 and installed the OS themselves. This is, perhaps, unprecedented. Certainly there hasn't been a Windows purchasing trend like this since Windows 95.
It's likely that a number of factors contributed to this change. Windows 7 is seen as a highly desirable upgrade and it comes on the heels of a less-than-well-liked Windows version. It is seen as being smaller, faster, and more powerful than Windows Vista, and able to run well on hardware that was previously running Windows XP. And of course, the economic downturn has likely caused consumers to try to eek more use out of existing PCs rather than purchase new PCs. Over time, as conditions improve, one might expect the distribution of Windows 7 sales to more closely model that of its predecessors.