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Microsoft 'touches 16k shop workers' to flog Windows 8 hard

Ambitious OS wasn't explosive, admit top bods

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Microsoft says Windows 8 PC sales were cursed by the unholy trinity of a slow economy, incursions by Apple and Android tablets, and the "ambitious" user interface design.

But the software giant insisted it is working with retailers and manufacturers to supply hardware that people actually want in time for the peak sales season this spring.

Microsoft pushed touchscreen-fitted computers at the launch of Windows 8 to show off the operating system's new touch-driven user interface. But distributors said the availability of said tablet-cum-laptops was poor - and the number of shipped units did not improve before Christmas as PC makers forecasted a shrinking market.

Gary Fowle, Microsoft UK and Ireland's senior director for computer manufacturers, said feedback from hardware vendors was that the software's launch campaign was "very touch centric".

"If I had a crystal ball at the time of launch, what would I like to have been able to do? I would have liked to marry up configurations and SKUs that we saw the greatest demand for," he told The Channel.

Just two per cent of PCs sold through the IT distribution channel during November and December were touch-enabled according to Context. Data from Canalys suggested that notebooks, desktops and netbook sales fell 10 per cent in Q4 worldwide , indicating the uplift Microsoft predicted from Windows 8 shipments did not materialise.

At the start of this year, Microsoft claimed it had sold 60 million Windows 8 copies to date, but did not break down how many of these were upgrade entitlements as part of an Enterprise Agreement, or cut price upgrades for punters that bought a Windows 7 PC from June 2012.

The major PC players previously told us that consumers didn't understand touch-based laptops and evangelising the new interface would have cost more than they were prepared to shell out. They also claimed Microsoft's own Surface notebook-cum-fondleslab confused customers.

The availability of Windows 8 touch devices has vastly improved, Rob Epstein, Microsoft UK and Ireland's senior product director for Windows, told The Channel. He added that the Redmond giant wanted to make sure retailers were up to speed on the new OS.

"We can't talk specifics but we have individual plans with individual retailers," he said. "We are continuing with the training programme for in-store staff and touched 16,000 retail sales people with that so far."

Microsoft also wants to develop some "experiential" marketing to allow would-be users to get hold of the devices to play with them.

"We've done some deep work on understanding demand in the channel, demand in each category and worked hard to make sure our partners are aligned with what can be supplied," said Epstein.

"Doing things differently with Windows 8 is a massive change happening in the middle of an economic environment that none of us experienced before and in the middle of a technology [platform] change."

Epstein added that the new operating system was an "ambitious change and people have different levels of comfort with change, Windows 8 was never going to be explosive on its first weekend". ®

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