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Windows 8 'sales' barely half as good as Microsoft claims

Don't even mention the XP/Vista sales comparisons

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Microsoft claimed last week that it's made '100 million' Windows 8 sales and the claim has been widely repeated. But channel feedback and the experience on the ground point to a very different picture.

The Guardian's Charles Arthur has made a stab at estimating the true figure, and suggests it's much less, at between 57 million and 59 million machines running Redmond's latest OS.

Arthur looks at two metrics of browser usage: StatCounter and Net Applications' NetMarketShare, and extrapolates a usage figure from the number of PCs actually shipped. The logic here is that browser usage is a reliable proxy for real-world usage.

Which is solid, unless we are to believe that many Windows 8 machines are in use but do not access the internet. Perhaps they're pushed into use as departmental servers? Or perhaps they're used by determined accountants who are so busy with Excel that they never check Facebook. But how likely is that?

From this metric, both figures (57.3m and 59.25m) are far lower than the 100m licenses Redmond claim. Only one third of new PCs are running Windows 8. But for some it's lower. Windows 8 PCs can ship as "downgraded by default" - with the new Tile-centric OS bundled in a box. Lenovo confirmed that many of its "Windows 8 shipments" are just this configuration. That's a "license" that has "shipped", but it's not a PC running Windows 8.

Of course, some will be. A built-for-Windows 8 tablet or convertible is likely to be running Windows 8. But even in a tablet frenzy, Microsoft has only shipped 1.6m Windows devices - and that includes 722,000 Surface RTs.

Channel feedback has been reflecting this for months. Three quarters of PCs shipped at Christmas were running Windows 7; fewer than 17 per cent of business PCs shipped with Windows 8.

When it comes to obfuscating Windows figures, Microsoft has form. Redmond originally boasted that it would shift 400 million Vista PCs in two years. In this story from May 2007 we find Bill Gates claiming 40 million licenses for Windows Vista had been shipped since the preceding January.

(Strangely, the same 40m number resurfaced not longer after Windows 8 had launched - when Microsoft's Tami Reller claimed punters were upgrading faster to Windows 8 than they had upgraded to Windows 7.)

We later discovered that licenses were going out, but simply lining the shelves of distributors' warehouses. The channel then responded to what customers wanted - by giving them Windows XP.

Vista wasn't finished when it shipped, and the hardware demands were steep. By contrast, Windows 8 is on most counts less demanding than its predecessor. But Windows 8 also represents a discontinuity with the past - as Microsoft acknowledged last week.

What makes the difference this time is that there are alternatives to Windows 8 competing for both enterprise and consumer IT budgets. For twenty years Microsoft recognised that its biggest competitor was itself, and that the biggest threat to upgrade revenue was not upgrading. Now there's another - IT spend now includes tablets and smartphones.

Some years ago Symbian's former CEO Colly Myers talked about manufacturers compromising their devices by integrating different functions badly. He noted:

I used to think you could convert a lot of things [to an all-in-one smartphone] but I'm older and wiser, I think. You end up with a 'spork' - a combination of a spoon and a fork. It's no good as a spoon and no good as a fork.

And perhaps that's the problem. Microsoft has "sporked" Windows: the desktop, non-touch version of Windows is much more cumbersome than it needs to be. By doing so, Microsoft has made the pure-bred alternatives much more attractive. ®

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