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Microsoft pats self on back over Windows 8 sales

The figures are trending upward, but what do they mean?

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Analysis Think Windows 8 isn't performing as well as Microsoft expected? Think again! The software giant says sales of its new OS are chugging along quite nicely, thank you very much, in much the same fashion as Windows 7 before it.

Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Tech Forum at CES 2013 on Tuesday, Tami Reller, one of the two newly minted heads of Microsoft's Windows group, said the company has sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses to date – a figure Microsoft repeated in an official blog post.

That post went on to explain that those numbers indicated a "similar sales trajectory" to what Redmond saw with the Windows 7 launch in 2009 – gloomy industry reports apparently notwithstanding.

Furthermore, the post said, Microsoft's OEM partners have now certified more than 1,700 systems to run Windows 8 and Windows RT. And developers and customers reportedly like the OS, too; the number of apps in the Windows Store has quadrupled, and customers have downloaded more than 100 million apps so far.

But we would be remiss if we didn't poke and prod Microsoft's figures a little bit, to see how well they stand up to scrutiny. Are things truly as rosy for Windows 8 as Redmond would have us believe?

The 60 million licenses figure is impressive, but it does seem to indicate that overall sales have been slowing in the months since Windows 8's October 2012 launch. Microsoft's previous claim was 40 million licenses sold, but that was back in November.

What's more, as Microsoft's announcement explains, that 60 million figure "represents the cumulative sales of Windows 8 including both upgrades and sales to OEMs for new devices."

In other words, some of those Windows licenses are upgrades that are running on real-world machines, right now, but a great many of them aren't. In fact, the machines that many of those copies of Windows 8 will eventually run on haven't even been built yet.

Here at El Reg, we suspect that Microsoft's 60 million number also includes many licenses that have been sold to enterprise customers through Redmond's Volume Licensing program. Such customers often stockpile Windows licenses for use at some later date; so, again, a license sold by Microsoft doesn't necessarily mean a computer that's booting to Windows 8 today.

The fact that 1,700 devices have been certified to run Windows 8 and Windows RT is encouraging, but of course, the trick lies in selling them. Holiday PC sales figures were rather dismal, as expected, and many retailers were reportedly discounting Windows 7 machines to move inventory, rather than pushing customers toward Windows 8.

As for Microsoft's Windows Store claims, one would certainly hope it had quadrupled the number of apps it offers. In September, one month prior to the official launch of Windows 8, the Windows Store was home to just 2,079 apps. Let's be generous and multiply that figure by five; it's still just 1.3 per cent of the number of apps in Apple's App Store.

And while 100 million apps downloaded in two months sounds like a nice, healthy figure, it's actually shockingly unimpressive. At that rate, it will take Microsoft nearly 67 years to match the 40 billion apps that have been downloaded from Apple's App Store since it opened in 2008.

This, despite Steve Ballmer's repeated rallying cry that Windows has an installed base of 670 million machines, and that every one of them is a potential Windows 8 upgrade. Apparently more than a few of them have yet to take the bait.

Still, it's early days for Windows 8 yet, and convincing the majority of PC users to upgrade to a new Windows version has always been a notoriously sluggish process. Doubtless, the Windows Store will become a more lively place as more of those presold Windows 8 licenses get activated.

For now, however, while Microsoft's early sales figures should give its investors some comfort, they're hardly a declaration of victory. Rather, they merely offer some proof that Redmond hasn't totally screwed up, after all – not yet, anyway. ®

Bootnote

In the interest of full disclosure, readers should be aware that your Reg hack has taken one for the team and has been running Windows 8 as his primary OS since shortly after launch. He's found that it really is nowhere near as bad as some critics would have it. One thing of which he is certain, though, is that there aren't nearly 60 million other users in the same boat.

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