Don't believe the hype: why 200m Windows 8 sales is bad news for Microsoft

Operating Systems

by Ben Sullivan| 17 February 2014

Windows 8 still falling behind Windows 7, and faring only slightly better than Vista.

The latest sales figures for Windows 8 aren't looking too healthy for Microsoft, despite whatever spin the software giant is trying to put on them.

Microsoft has now reported it's passed 200 million licenses sold for Windows 8 - but what physical figure does that actually equate to? Microsoft reported 100 million sales after six months, which points to slowing trend as it's now been around 15 months since release, and it's altogether far slower than the sales of Windows 7, which sold 240 million its first 12 months.

To be fair, PC sales have slumped recently.

Total PC shipments added up to 82.6 million units in Q4 2013, a 6.9 per cent fall from the same quarter in 2012 according to analyst firm Gartner. Q4 was also the seventh consecutive quarter of shipment decline.

But seeing as Windows 8 is meant to be Microsoft's push for an all-encompassing device operating system, these figures just don't add up. Tablet and smartphone sales are through the roof; just not Windows devices it would seem.

So how many PCs are actually running Windows 8? The 200 million 'sold' figure, unfortunately for Microsoft, doesn't actually represent 'devices running', as a unit marked as sold doesn't mean that the device is operating on the system. Two reasons for this: one, that enterprises will buy up Windows 8 licenses just to be able to downgrade to Windows 7, and two, Windows 8 is pushed onto new devices like the Surface and Nokia phones, but that doesn't mean that the device is in the hands of the end user (they could all be in some rarely-visited O2 store just west of Reading).

Furthermore, with the plethora of changes Microsoft is looking to implement on Windows 8, that doesn't scream to me that it's a successful operating system. Is it really running on 200 million devices? If it's not broke, don't fix it, but it's very much definitely trying to fix it.

The 200 million sales also don't quite add up when it comes to actual device sales. Let's look at desktops: in 2013, Gartner reported that a total of 316 million PCs were whizzed out from the production line. Add a few months on either end of that for late 2012 and early 2014, and somewhere there should be hiding a giant bunch of desktops running Windows. Well, yes there is - just not Windows 8. The latest stats from Netmarketshare.com indicate that currently, Windows 8 (and 8.1 added in for good measure) is only running on a combined 10.58 per cent of all PCs. Obviously, you have to cater for tablets and phones as well, but 200 million devices physically running Windows 8 just doesn't seem viable at the moment.

Netmarketshare

Source: Netmarketshare.com

"Windows 8 has surpassed 200 million licenses sold, and we continue to see momentum. This number includes Windows licenses that ship on a new tablet or PC, as well as upgrades to Windows 8. The figure does not include volume license sales to enterprise. Windows is a central part of life for more than 1.5 billion people around the world, and we are looking forward to the future," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to ZDnet.

Yet again, it would just seem that 'licenses sold' is just an arbitrary figure- it may just as well be licenses created for sale. 200 million is a massive accomplishment, but the figure blushes next to its predecessors and the total number of devices on market, despite the recent downturn of desktop sales.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 may still be able to save the OS some face, but the damage is already done for Windows 8's reputation. Windows 9 can't come soon enough for Microsoft or for users, and if that doesn't turn things around, we're going to see a very different Microsoft to what we see today.

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