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About Those 100 Million Windows 8 Sales

If you can believe Microsoft, over 100 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold so far. This number is consistent with the initial uptake of Windows 7, so you have to wonder how these figures are being collected, since PC sales continue to decline. Is it possible Microsoft is just lying?

Well, probably not. But what constitutes a sale?

It’s not just people downloading Windows 8 upgrades, actually. Microsoft earns most of its keep selling software licenses to OEMs, who bundle Windows with a new PC, any PC. So, yes, I suppose it’s possible that Microsoft has booked 100 million sales into its ledgers. But that doesn’t mean that 100 million copies of Windows 8, or anything close to that number, are in the hands of end users. It may also be true that there are tens of millions of unsold PCs in the channel. But that doesn’t matter to Microsoft, since a sale is a sale even if nobody is actually using the product.

This is similar to the IDC survey reporting that the percentage of Android tablets sold now exceeds the iPad, which is left with less than 40% of the market. Whereas Apple reports real sales, most of the other companies are reporting units shipped. It’s very easy to rack up a couple of million or so of each model just to reach all the resellers and distributors. It doesn’t mean all that product is actually sold, and it would be curious to see how many are eventually disposed of at fire sales, or returned to the manufacturer, depending on their return policies.

When it comes to Windows 8, it’s clear Microsoft isn’t getting the love, despite the claim of how many were sold. If manufacturers aren’t moving PCs as they used to, they will build less, which inevitably means sales of Windows 8 are doomed to decline.

The larger issue is why Windows 8 isn’t successful, and what Microsoft can do about it, if anything. One argument is the steep learning curve, that customers are forced to learn new skills, particularly the tiled interface formerly known as Metro. It’s certainly not very discoverable, and, unaccountably, Microsoft killed the familiar Start menu, although it can be readily replaced with cheap third-party utilities. Also, to use the key productivity apps, and that includes Microsoft Office, Windows 8 users must return to the desktop, so why bother with another interface at all?

Windows 8 becomes particularly irritating when you have a traditional PC that doesn’t have a touchscreen. Mousing around is tremendously awkward and unintuitive, but Microsoft clearly hopes that customers will come around eventually once they learn how things work. But they seem to forget that, until fairly recently, most Windows users around the world were using XP, dating back to 2001. Nowadays, Windows 7 has the majority of users, and they appear quite satisfied, so why fix what isn’t broken?

Microsoft’s planned fix is called Blue in development versions, an update to Windows 8 that reportedly will address some problems. While the feature set hasn’t been fully fleshed out, it is expected that the Start menu will return, as will the ability to default boot into the desktop layer. In that sort of setup, Windows 8 might be closer in concept to a Windows 7.5, since it will be quite similar otherwise.

This isn’t to say that Windows 8 or its heirs are destined to fail. It’s possible that, over time, as more and more Windows users buy new PCs with the OS preloaded, they will come to accept the changes and maybe embrace them. That might be true if PCs with touchscreens catch on, but that’s by no means certain. While touch is perfectly viable for a mobile gadget, such as a smartphone or a tablet, using your fingers on a regular PC screen, note-book or desktop, is a decidedly awkward reach. Convertible note-books, which can become tablet-like if you push and pull and tug and swivel and rotate them properly, are usually thick, heavy and awkward to use. Rather than offering the best of both worlds, you get the worst, the master of few tasks.

But Microsoft is in a box. The company believes that we all want the PC and mobile gear to be essentially the same, which is why the interface formerly known as Metro also inhabits Windows Phone devices. But it’s not as if Windows Phone has taken the world by storm, or even come close.

I suppose it is possible that a Windows Blue, which may be called Windows 8.1 when it arrives later this year, will provide the fixes needed to improve PC sales. But that ship may already have sailed, and unless Microsoft can convince skeptical customers to buy more PCs with Windows 8, sales will continue to fall.

Sure, Mac sales are flat too, but Apple still prospers if those customers move to an iPhone or an iPad or, even better, both. Windows users disgusted with Microsoft’s tone deafness, who still want a personal computer, may actually buy Macs.

So, yes, Microsoft may have moved 100 million Windows 8 licenses, but the new OS is far from successful.