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Windows reportedly lost almost 5% market share in 2020 according to IDC

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Surface Laptop Go Vs Surface Go (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Windows reportedly lost almost 5% market share in 2020.
  • Chrome OS went up by over 4% in the same span.
  • Windows held a market share of 80.5% at the end of 2020 according to IDC.

New figures indicate that Windows lost almost 5% market share in 2020, with the majority of its share moving to Chrome OS. The figures come from a report by Geekwire based on numbers from IDC. The figures indicate a trend of consumers moving towards Chrome OS. 2020 is also the first time that Chrome OS devices outsold Macs (via iMore).

Before diving deeper into the figures, it's important to note that there is room for error in these figures. IDC's methodology for tracking OS market share helps track trends, but it's impossible to have exact figures for market share at any given time.

Even with room for error, the figures illustrate that Chrome OS devices did well in 2020 and that Windows market share dipped.

Windows market share dropped from 85.4% in 2019 to 80.5% in 2020. Chrome OS market share went up from 6.4% to 10.8% in that same span. Windows still has a sizeable lead over Chrome OS and macOS, even if the latter two are combined, but a drop of almost 5% in a year is notable.

Os Market Share 2020 Idc Geekwire

Source: IDC & Geekwire (Image credit: Source: IDC & Geekwire)

Geekwire breaks down the figures on a quarterly basis as well. Note that these figures are not cumulative, instead indicating figures of each respective quarter:

In Q1 2020, Apple and Google were neck-and-neck: Windows grabbed 87.5% market share, macOS took 5.8%, and Chrome OS captured 5.3%. But in Q2 2020, Windows fell to 81.7%, macOS grew to 7.6%, and Chrome OS jumped to 10.0%.Q3 2020 and Q4 2020 confirmed the trend: Windows dropped further to 78.9% for Q3 and then 76.7% for Q4; macOS grew to 8.4% for Q3 and then fell back to 7.7% for Q4, while Chrome OS had 11.5% for Q3 and then 14.4% share for Q4. The Q4 results are particularly notable as the fourth quarter tends to be the biggest for PC shipments. While macOS widened its lead over Chrome OS in Q4 2019, Chrome OS came roaring back in Q4 2020.

2020 was a unique year in terms of personal computing. With millions of people working and studying from home due to a global pandemic, people's computing needs rapidly shifted. It's likely that this shift contributed to the growth of Chrome OS over 2020.

As people continue to work and study from home, we'll have to see if these trends continue.

Microsoft is working on Windows 10X, which may help it compete with budget-friendly Chromebooks. In his breakdown of Windows 10X, our senior editor Zac Bowden states that "Windows 10X will launch this spring first for commercial markets. Commercial markets include education and enterprise industries looking for sub-$600 PCs for students in the classroom or first line workers."

With more affordable devices on the way that are geared at first line workers and education, Microsoft may be able to buck current trends.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

34 Comments
  • My guess would be that as low income populations with children in school were forced to be remote -- the most affordable options were chrome books. I also wouldn't be shocked that schools with already strained budgets that were forced to obtain computers probably followed the same route. In a world where there are 100 computers and there were 85 windows computers and 15 chrome books, then looking at the numbers I wouldn't be surprised that the middle class didn't buy any new pcs, the low income bought chrome books, and the wealthy got new toys (PCs/Macs). The growth to me would seem to stem from households without PCs (low income). But... I'm merely throwing numbers out there and am by no means a statistician. ;P
  • I don't have any additional data, but I'd suspect that education and having to buy devices without having time to save up played a large factor. I know a lot of parents with young kids that didn't have their own computers before that need a computer now for school. I think most of us assume that lots of students have computers, and I bet they do, but I doubt that many 5-10-year-olds had computers of their own until last year. But in a world where many parents need a computer to work from home while their kids also need a computer to study from home, you need more devices. If a Chromebook can do what you need and costs hundreds less than a Windows PC, why not snag one up?
  • What happens next will be interesting. Is Chrome OS truly ready for prime time. Will all these people that bought these cheaper devices be happy with them and stick to them? Or will they start to abandon Chrome OS? MS needs to respond and get more lower cost options out there. BUT those devices need to work well and not be hamstrung by poor performance. You simply can't run MS Office, Teams, and 4+ edge tabs simultaneously on a device w/ 4gb of RAM.
  • Yes, ChromeOS is ready for prime time.
    1. For cheap devices you can run PWAs, Android apps and some Linux apps like LibreOffice on 4 GB of RAM and Intel Celeron CPUs.
    2. Not all ChromeOS devices are cheap. Devices for enterprise, developers and IT personnel that have Intel Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs and 8/16 GB RAM became more commonplace last year. Many of those emphasize the Linux container on ChromeOS.
    3. A funny thing: ChromeOS devices with up to 64 GB RAM and support up to 3 external 4K monitors exist. Meanwhile M1 MacBooks are limited to 16 GB RAM and a single external monitor at present.
    4. In 2020 native support for VT/X and QEMU came to the ChromeOS kernel, which means it can now run Parallels, VirtualBox and VMWare. (Yes, you can run Linux and Windows VMs inside Chromebooks now.)
    5. In 2021, full support for discrete GPUs and eGPUs are coming. Why? Because Valve and Google are working to bring a Steam container to ChromeOS, which will include Proton for Windows games. It is called Project Borealis.
  • Well, low tech work, maybe. But, work efficiency for example.
    Assuming your Edge / Chrome is the 2nd app on the taskbar, how do you go to Edge / Chrome window 2 tab 4? On Windows, it's win+2, 2, ctrl+4, also, Chrome book doesn't have win+up/dn/lft/rgt/1~9 and menu key I guess? Is GSuite enough for business?
    1. How do you collapse and expand a group of cells in Sheet?
    2. How do you upload excel to your game server to config game contents / database?
    3. How do you version control documents?
    4. How to store docs in the on-site server if your documents is classified?
    5. What happens when internet or service is down? I work in a AAA game publisher as a lead game programmer, we, and business partners in other industries, need Windows.
    Q: Can we switch 1 person a day away to Chrome Book? No.
    Q: Can we switch everyone in a single day? Dropping everything human ever built, knowhow, tech support, workflow? No.
    Q: Can a newbie refuse a Windows from IT dept and ask to work on a Chrome Book? No... Curious, is it possible to do EDM / music production on a Chrome Book?
  • ChromeOS and light OSes in general are very useful. Not everyone needs to "run MS Office, Teams, and 4+ edge tabs." There's lots you can do in a browser. Is it for me and you? No, but it is for my mom, and apparently a lot of grade school students. I should add that Microsoft knows that ChromeOS is not going away. That's why they've invested in making their own light OS. Also, what ubuntu_meaning said.
  • A lot of attempts to "explain away" this is circulating (especially on Apple and Windows site) but they ignore: 0. The "Windows lost market share to ChromeOS" thing is a lazy take. First off, macOS market share only increased from 7% to 8.5%. Second, I bet that lots of people who would have otherwise bought Android tablets and iPads bought Chromebooks instead. For $300 you can either buy a ChromeOS 2-in-1 like the Lenovo Duet ... or you can buy merely the keyboard accessory to an iPad Pro. Which would most people pick? 1. ChromeOS almost caught macOS last year. 17 million Chromebooks versus 18.5 million Macs. 2. Yes, it was people buying laptops due to COVID-19 but they chose Chromebooks instead of other devices because of the great work that Google did with Google Classroom. People weren't buying laptops for school with ChromeOS as the cheapest option. Because cheap Chromebooks have been available since 2011. Instead it was people buying Chromebooks for their kids to run Google Classroom on. 3. Various analysts - IDC, Gartner, Canalys - have previously stated that consumer, small business and even enterprise adoption of Chromebooks increased in 2020 also. 4. Last year ChromeOS had its first "hit" device: the Lenovo Duet tablet. (Yes, it runs ARM ... a MediaTek smartphone chip with the LTE radio disabled.) More variations of this are coming this year from various manufacturers: Qualcomm and MediaTek-based ARM tablets and 2-in-1s, some with LTE and 5G.
  • Great points overall. That Lenovo device really caught me by surprise. $250 and not crappy. I've been impressed with zero Chrome and few Android tablet devices before the Duet. But it's probably worse news for Apple than for Microsoft.
  • That's not really a surprise, but market share is a percentage so doesn't show you the actual numbers, if windows was on more PCs now than before, it still might have a lower market share. One thing is certain, my kids beg me to use my windows laptops, rather than their school provided Chrome books, their experience has really darkened their view on Google and ChromeOS, both suffer from a lot of crashes and generally things not working as they should. Both are in different schools and both have different Dell chromebooks.
  • Woah, (Dell) Chromebooks crash? That's pretty crappy. My experience with HP devices has been all stable all the time. But your comment about the absolute numbers is important. Just looking at market share in such a strange year is not very helpful. People being forced into PC use at a time of plateauing or declining PC sales is not the basis for a renaissance in Windows competition. Those people already would rather be on a mobile OS device. Let's see what happens when Covid vaccines bring us back to more-or-less normal.
  • I'm with you. Last school year we borrowed Chromebooks from the school. My kids hated them and they all fought over our one windows desktop. Two of the three had hardware issues (modem not connecting, camera not working). One of them required the school to reset it every 3-5 days. The school district said they got 25% of them back broken. Which makes me wonder how much of that increase in Chromebook sales were schools and others replacing broken Chromebooks? We found some windows HP tablets new in box on eBay for this school year for the price of a Chromebook. We likely won't be going back to Chromebooks.
    You also have to consider the disposable nature of Chromebooks and android tablets. I've purchased 4 Android/Amazon tablets over the last 10 years (all four have broken and are no longer used). I've only purchased one laptop in that same time frame that is still going strong.
  • The hardware between Windows and Chrome is no different, other than Chrome is more usable on slower silicon. You seem to be confusing hardware with OS, probably because there isn't much else you can attack.
  • We dropped surface completely when more than 20% of our devices had battery or some other hardware failure. We had about 500 surfaces, sf book, surface go. So many failed just after warranty expiration my office looks like a surface graveyard. This has never happened with our HPs or Dells. We have about 5000 in our mix.
  • Hmmm already forced to use a phone with Android, would I want Google collecting even more personal data on my electronic habits by utilizing their OS? I'd stick with MS
  • Agreed I will not sell my soul for Google
  • Microsoft does the same things as Google. They are no different. Google actually gives you better control over your data than Microsoft.
  • The difference here is Yes Microsoft collects data like every other company collects data. But Google built their whole business on using your data. If Google doesn't use your data, they fail as a company. Microsoft doesn't live and die by using your data.
  • So? What do you care when they both do it, especially when Google is more transparent about what they collect and why?
  • Absolutely not, Google is not like Microsoft, because of what Google does with the data they take from you.
  • How does Google use it differently than Microsoft? Using it to better their services?
  • Not a surprise. I happened into a local Target a few weeks ago and their entire laptop aisle was three quarters Chromebooks, and a couple of Windows machines. I expect this trend to accelerate in 2021 as Chromebooks continue to gain momentum and high-end buyers gravitate back to MacBooks for the new shiny M1 processors. Microsoft has neglected Windows 10 for too long. We may be witnessing the beginning of the same catastrophic collapse that happened to Internet Explorer. In 5 years time, Windows may not even be 50% of the PC market.
  • We've been hearing this for decades... "it's the year of Linux".... "it's the year of Chromebooks" "it's the year of macs" Intel and AMD both have new chips coming out that beat the M1 in mobile and battery teach is improving fast enough that device makers can compete in run time of arm with a slightly larger batter - look at SP7+ If Microsoft could refresh the Surface Go with a Surface Go+ to hold us over till the next iteration, that'd be grreeeat The interesting thing with Chromebooks is GOOGLE itself is not a low margin operating company so they expect advertising revenue or else "Chromebooks" mas as well just be called "browserbooks"
  • The numbers are there now though. If it keeps going in this direction, at this pace, it will be rough for Windows.
  • This is an awful take. It's taken 10 years for windows to dip into the high 80's in 5 years, it'll stay that way. You are simply assuming that ALL PC manufactures will roll over and let MacBooks be expensive and let Chromebooks be cheap. Get your obviously biased head out of the sand.
  • When the pandemic started last year, many schools/students probably bought Chromebooks
  • One of those Chromebook sales was to me. My daughter's school insisted that every student gets one. To keep costs down, it was the absolute cheapest-of-the-cheap Chromebook, not a PC. It's an absolute piece of of rubbish. I think that in the longer term, this pandemic has taught a lot of people that low-price crap is, well, crap. It's a false saving in the long run. The best approach is to buy something better, not cheaper. That lesson probably won't help Chromebook sales in future years - we'll all be a bit wiser when it comes time to buy our next student PC.
  • What were you expecting for $80?
  • Agreed. Chromebooks are disposable garbage.
  • Every single one? I have seen tons of disposable Windows machines, at higher prices, and they were way worse to use.
  • Windows has been losing market share for years. For obvious reasons. It will continue to do so. For obvious reasons. Mac market share is up to 23% in Enterprises. General Mac share is approaching 30% in the U.S., and is around 17% worldwide. Both of these numbers are WAY up. 15 years ago, it was 95% Windows and 4% Mac in the U.S.
  • I agree, Windows ecosystem (SW and HW) has never been so weak. High end market is moving more and more to Apple, people with IPhone and IPad probably prefer to buy a Mac instead of a PC, and low end market is paying more and more attention to Chrome book. A very bad position for MSFT and OEM. Future looks not very promising for Windows.
  • Mac share is nowhere near 17%. Why are you faking numbers? Also, what does "enterprise" mean? Why be vague on purpose?
  • Haha, so much for some that were in extreme denial of ChromeOS ever crossing 1%. So long as Google sticks to it, keeps developing it, & microsoft has no alternative that near-eliminates the need for IT support, nothing stops ChromeOS from gaining immense marketshare, just like Chrome did.
  • Those two things are in no way comparable buddy.