The stats that would really tell us how Windows 8 is doing

A recent visitor to Microsoft's Palo Alto store tries out a Surface. Credit: IDGNS San Francisco

This afternoon, Windows business chief Tami Reller told an audience of analysts that Microsoft had sold 40 million licenses for its new operating system, Windows 8. A few minutes later, that same claim was repeated on the Windows 8 blog.

That seems to be faster than the rate of sales for Windows 7. By the end of December 2009, when Windows 7 had been on sale for about two months, it had sold 60 million units

At the very least, that means that the PC market is not as dead as some detractors would like to believe. Forty million units a month is still more than any other tech product, including the latest Apple gadgets.

But this actually doesn't tell us much about how Windows 8 is doing, or whether it's helping Microsoft compete in the tablet market. 

Here are some stats that would help:

  • How many of those Windows 8 licenses were on new touch screen devices? If customers are simply buying regular style laptops or desktops that happen to run Windows 8, that doesn't necessarily help Microsoft versus the iPad. But if most of these are tablets or convertibles, then Windows 8 is doing what Microsoft hoped it would.
  • How many Windows RT licenses are included? Windows RT was Microsoft's big gambit to get Windows running on the low-cost ARM processors that power the iPad and most other tablets. So far, there aren't many of these devices on the market other than Microsoft's own Surface. 
  • How many of the licenses were retail upgrades, including discounted upgrades to PCs bought before Windows 8 came out? Microsoft said that "to date" it had sold 40 million licenses. But not all of those licenses came on new computers sold with Windows 8.
  • How many enterprises actually deployed the licenses they bought? Many enterprises have volume license agreements that allow them to exercise downgrade rights on new PCs. So they may have bought new PCs with Windows 8 licenses as part of their normal hardware refresh cycle, then downgraded those PCs to Windows 7 to keep a corporate standard.
  • Sell-in vs. sell-through? It's not clear whether that 40 million is sales to PC makers, or sales to end users. Microsoft usually goes into more detail on this in its earnings calls.

These kinds of statistics are most relevant to the financial analysts who follow Microsoft's quarterly earnings with a microscope.

But they'd also help IT planners guess whether a lot of Windows 8 tablets are suddenly going to show up in their offices after the holidays, and whether Microsoft is successfully building enough demand to get developers on board to create more apps.

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