A cornerstone of the company's budding turnaround is Windows 10, which was released last year and which fixed many of the problems that made Windows 8 and 8.1 unpopular. It may be the fastest-adopted operating systems in Microsoft history. According to data from Net Applications, Windows 10 has gained more market share in the first 12 months than the successful Windows 7 did after its 2009 release.
The rapid growth in Windows 10 adoption was due in part to the oldest trick in the book: giving it away for free (the promotion just ended). For the first year, anyone running Windows 7 or 8 could upgrade for no cost, attracting hundreds of millions of devices to the new platform. Among organizations that switched to the new version, 66 percent cited the free upgrade as a major reason, in a Spiceworks survey released in July.
The strategy didn't do much to help PC sales, but it did breathe new life into Bing, the company's much-ridiculed search engine. Bing comes as a central component in the latest OS, and some users report difficulty switching to competing search options.
By the end of 2015, Bing had become profitable for the first time, with $1 billion in revenue. In the first fiscal quarter of 2016, search revenue was up by nearly 30 percent as the company experienced higher volume and higher revenue per search.
Almost 20 percent of search revenue in September was driven by the new OS, according to the company. Bing now has around 10 to 20 percent of the global search engine market, an uptick which coincides with the success of Windows 10. That's not bad for a product that had been compared to "throwing money down a rat hole," but it remains to be seen whether it will remain profitable.