Windows XP Deadline Slows PC Market Decline

Gartner and IDC analysts say PC shipments continue to be under pressure by the popularity of smartphones and tablets.

Microsoft's deadline for ending support of the Windows XP operating system couldn't stop the continuing slide of worldwide PC shipments, but it helped slow the decline, according to analysts with Gartner and IDC.

In numbers released April 9, Gartner said the 76.6 million PCs were shipped in the first quarter, a 1.7 percent decline from the same period in 2013. For their part, IDC analysts said the 73.4 million PCs shipped during the first three months of the year, representing a 4.4 percent decrease over last year. However, both firms said that while the consumer PC segment continued to feel the pressure of the continued popularity of smartphones and tablets, the commercial PC space—particularly in mature markets—were helped by the coming deadline from Microsoft for ending support of the popular yet ancient Windows XP.

That deadline passed this week.

"The end of XP support by Microsoft on April 8 has played a role in the easing decline of PC shipments," Gartner Principal Analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in a statement. "All regions indicated a positive effect since the end of XP support stimulated the PC refresh of XP systems. Professional desktops, in particular, showed strength in the quarter. Among key countries, Japan was greatly affected by the end of XP support, registering a 35 percent year-over-year increase in PC shipments. The growth was also boosted by sales tax change. We expect the impact of XP migration worldwide to continue throughout 2014."

Even the amount of publicity surrounding the deadline over the past several months, organizations worldwide seemed reluctant to let go of the OS. In a post on the company blog April 7, Qualys CTO Wolfgang Kandek said that reluctance is understandable, though he suggested either upgrading Windows or decommissioning XP.

"There are multiple reasons why we still see XP in use today: the cost of upgrading can be daunting and machines may run critical legacy apps dependent on XP," Kandek wrote. "There is also a lack of awareness of the size and state of the XP device population. Lastly, there are governments and other large organizations who have chosen to buy extended support for the OS from Microsoft."

Still, enough organizations were taking heed of the deadline to slow the decline in PC shipments. IDC analysts, however, said that while the XP issue was a key driver in slowing the decline, other factors played a role, including a slowing demand for tablets in some regions.

At the same time, the popularity of mobile devices isn't the only issue facing the PC market, according to Loren Loverde, vice president of Worldwide PC Trackers for IDC. Other factors include "economic pressures (including high unemployment, slow growth and investment, tight credit and currency fluctuations) related to the Great Recession, sovereign debt crises and their related impact on international trade," Loverde said in a statement.

"The economic front seems to be gradually stabilizing and/or improving," he said. "However, this has been a slow process, and it is unlikely that sovereign debt issues will be resolved soon or that growth in emerging markets like China will return to prior levels."

It's also unlikely that the move toward mobile devices will slow anytime soon, "although the short term impact on PC shipments may slow as tablet penetration rises—as we've begun to see in some mature regions. The net result remains consistent with our past forecasts—in particular, that there is potential for PC shipments to stabilize, but not much opportunity for growth," Loverde said.

Lenovo continued to hold its position as the world's top PC vendor, keep its close lead over Hewlett-Packard. Gartner analysts said Lenovo held 16.9 percent of the market, compared with HP's 16 percent. Dell came in third with 12.5 percent, followed by Acer and Asus. According to IDC numbers, Lenovo had 17.7 percent of the market, followed by HP at 17.1 percent and Dell with 13.4 percent. Again, Acer and Asus rounded out the top five.