Global shipments of PCs fell 14 percent in the first three months this year, the sharpest plunge since research firm IDC started tracking the industry in 1994.

The firm said Wednesday that the appeal of tablets and smartphones is pulling money away from PCs, but it also blames Microsoft’s latest version of Windows, which has a new look and forces users to learn new ways to control their machines. Microsoft launched Windows 8 on Oct. 26, hoping to revitalize the PC industry and borrow some of the excitement that surrounds tablets. PC shipments were already falling, but the latest report suggests the decline is speeding up.

Global PC unit shipments fell to 76.3 million, worse than the 7.7 percent decline IDC had forecast. PC makers experienced declines in every region in the world as businesses chose to install Microsoft’s older Windows 7 operating system on employees’ computers instead of the newer Windows 8, Jay Chou, an analyst at Framingham, Massachusetts- based IDC, told Bloomberg News. Consumers shunned Windows 8 in favor of tablets and smartphones, which can accomplish many of the same tasks, he said.

“We don’t have a lot of reason to be optimistic that the market will remain in more than replacement-cycle mode,” Chou said. Consumers have found Windows 8’s redesigned user interface disorienting, and prices for touch-screen enabled computers that run the software are still too high, he said.

The last time worldwide PC shipments experienced a double- digit percentage decline was in the third quarter of 2001, when the market was roiled by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the impact of a decline in technology stocks, Chou said.

Representatives of Microsoft were not immediately available for comment.

Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s largest maker of PCs, saw a 24 percent drop in shipments in the first quarter compared with the same period a year ago. The industry’s No. 2, China’s Lenovo Group, which operates major operations in Morrisville, is benefiting from sales to first-time buyers in China and other developing countries. As a result, its held sales steady, alone among the world’s top 5 PC makers, according to IDC’s figures.

(Bloomberg News and The Associated Press contributed to this report)