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WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO TODAY?

The 20-year rise and fall of Microsoft Windows, from 1995 to now

Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

On Aug. 24, 1995, Microsoft launched Windows 95 and Office with great global fanfare. Since its launch, Windows computers have continued to dominate computer sales worldwide.

Apple certainly gets a lot more hype and fanfare for its phones and gadgetry, but it’s worth noting that Microsoft still absolutely dominates the personal computer market worldwide, and Apple maintains only a small (but growing) share. 

Windows computer sales continued to rise through the launches of Windows 98, 2000, Vista  (amazingly) and Windows 7 and 8, according to data provided to Quartz by the market research firm IDC.

Windows sales peaked in 2011, as Apple gained some market share, and consumers started to look to other web-connected devices—such as smartphones and tablets—and away from the traditional desktop or laptop computer.

The world today is a very different place than it was in 1995. While Microsoft continues to dominate the PC market, the company’s share of the entire computing market—including those non-traditional-devices—is stagnant, as Apple and other companies have soared. It’s an illustration of how marginal Microsoft has become in the wider computer industry:

In many ways, Microsoft is seen as the underdog in tech today—its search offering is a distant second to Google; its tablets are far outsold by Apple; and Windows shipped on just 14% of all computer devices in 2013. IBM now buys Apple computers, instead of competing with the company, and some of the best-selling software for Apple computers is made by Microsoft.

Who knows where things will head in another 20 years. Through the first half of 2015, IDC says roughly 118 million Windows computers have been shipped. If that trend continues through the year, shipments for 2015 would be about 236 million—roughly as many as were shipped in 2006.

If Windows 10 proves to be a worthy upgrade for IT departments around the world, perhaps Microsoft will buck its downward trend. Will Microsoft be able to return to its 90s dominance? Perhaps, but only if it can crack mobile. That will depend on Microsoft adapting to the ways tomorrow’s consumers use computer products.

Microsoft will need to ask itself: Where do you want to go today?

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