The first platform wars

Hi, this is David. As co-CEO of Datawrapper, I work at the intersection of Datawrapper’s product and customer-facing teams, to make our product as useful as possible to people.

When the first Datawrapper visualization was published in 2012, most of online media was consumed on desktop computers. Since then, this has changed dramatically: Over 70% of visualizations views now happen on smartphones, and over 90% of those on either iOS or Android-based devices.

While it can seem obvious afterwards which platform goes on to dominate, the story often looks way more complex in the early days of growing markets. A story I find particularly fascinating are the early desktop computer ‘platform wars’ of the 1970s and 1980s: since the introduction of the first commercial microprocessor in 1971, the personal computing industry had a brief but intense period of competition, before settling on the Windows on Mac duopoly we see today:

If you zoom out on the timeline into the early days of desktop computing, the story looks different:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Apple II was the dominating computer platform, being the only outlier among an industry of diverse and incompatible alternatives. As the 1980s went on, the story changed: The lower-budget Commodore 64, particularly popular in Europe, had an intense rise in popularity and even reached the number one spot of desktop computing platforms in 1983. At the same time, the IBM-backed Personal Computer standard, running Microsoft MS-DOS and later Windows software, began its rise: Through the power of an open standard, as well as competing device manufacturers driving down prices and targeting different market segments, it reached almost 90% of market share in 1995.

Since then, most of the world has been using either Windows- or Mac-based desktop software, with Linux- and Chrome OS-based alternatives taking distant third and fourth places. It wasn't until the rise of smartphones in the 2010s that the overall landscape changed in a significant way: adding up both mobile and desktop devices, Windows-based devices are down to a low of 28% market share, trailing market leader's Android's at 43.5%.

That’s the end of this week’s weekly chart! If you feel like more retrocomputing vibes, I can recommend this collection of C64-style music mixes. Next week, you'll hear from my fellow co-CEO and head of our visualization team Elana.