Windows 8 Sales: Five Questions That Still Need Answers

Windows 8, Microsoft reported yesterday, has sold 40 million Windows 8 licences in its first month of retail. That's an indisputably huge number, outpacing even Windows 7 sales at launch. But it's also a number that raises as many questions as answers.

How many people are actually using Windows 8?

It's easy to forget that the vast majority of Windows 8 licences Microsoft sells isn't direct to consumers. It's to Lenovo, HP, Dell, and all of its other hardware partners, who then go on to sell (or not sell) those devices to real human people. So how copies of Windows 8 are on family room desks, and how many are collecting dust on a Best Buy back shelf?

How much of that is from Microsoft Stores?

There had already been a handful of Microsoft Stores scattered in the southwestern US, but the company made a huge self-branded retail push this fall to help boost its Windows 8 launch. So how many of those licence sales are directly attributable to Microsoft's 65 North American shopping locales?

The success and failure of Microsoft Stores obviously can't be measured just in revenue; their main purpose is to familiarise people with a distinctly unfamiliar desktop platform, and to evangelize Microsoft's future-forward Surface hybrids. But remember that in 11 short years, Apple transformed a similar branding opportunity into the most lucrative retail operation in the world. Early strength from Microsoft Store sales could bode extremely well for Ballmer's band company going forward.

How will it sell when the price goes up?

One of the driving factors behind that big number is price; it only costs $US40 to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro right now, and it'll stay that cheap through January. A comparable upgrade from Vista to Windows 7 cost more than twice that.

That cut-rate pricing is smart for Microsoft, both because Apple OS upgrades have gotten so cheap and because it helps ensure strong sales figures out of the gate. But what happens when the price goes back up?

What are people upgrading from?

Despite any and all reservations, the most remarkable thing about Windows 8 licences jumping out ahead of Windows 7 licences is that you had to upgrade to Windows 7. Its immediate predecessor, Vista, was just that bad. There's no such incentive with Windows 8; Windows 7 remains rock-solid, no one's still on Vista, and if you're on XP, well, you probably forgot that you even own a computer. Not only that, but Windows 8's design overhaul -- as much as we appreciate it around these parts -- can be actively intimidating.

So who's upgrading, who's converting, and what does that mean for Windows 8's long-term chances?

What kind of hardware is selling?

Microsoft also announced that 1500 PCs and tablets have been certified for Windows 8, but didn't give any granular detail into which had actually been successful. 40 million licences is a big number no matter how the pie is sliced, but it would be in Microsoft's long-term favour if touchscreen devices -- the kind that Windows 8 was built for -- were gaining traction. Unfortunately, according to recent comments by the CEO of Asustek to All Things D, that's not the case.

So yes, Windows 8 is off to a strong sales start. But until we find out some of the numbers behind the numbers, it's nearly impossible to tell what that means exactly for Microsoft, for you, and for the future of PCs.



    "How many people are acrtually Windows 8?" Good question. I bought 2 copies that I have no intention usng. I'll sell those after 1 Jan when the price rises to $300 and I hope to make a little profit. I wonder how many others did the same?

      I hadn't heard of "Operating System Scalping" before.

      I'm going to guess not many... Enjoy your, errr lucrative(?), reselling of Win8...

      "I hope to make a little profit. I wonder how many others did the same?" Generally people aren't idiots so not many.

    Do those sales include RT and Pro? That may be another reason why the sales are higher. More hardware options means more licences sold to hardware partners.

      Windows RT is not a version of Windows 8, i.e. It is not "Windows 8 RT, so they probably shouldn't be counting it. But as I am certain the reason they are so keen to get bums on seats is to get developers interested, they could well be combining them. It is hard to imagine that RT will ever make up more than a tiny fraction of Win8 sales, though.

      I'd imagine those sales would not include the pro. Since, you know, they aren't selling it yet. :p

        I don't mean the Surface Pro. I am talking about the OS versions. I just wonder whether they are counting Windows RT sales in the total Windows 8 sales.

        Like @MotorMouth said, they probably shouldn't, but that doesn't mean they aren't.

    "no one’s still on Vista"
    You'd be surprised. I've been asked to re-image a laptop at work to Vista because they didn't like 7, even though they only had 7 for 2 days. I laughed.

    That 40 million is measured by the same metrics as the Win7 was, which was part of the initial press release. That will... Sum up most of these questions.

    If Asus aren't seeing much traction it is because they are dragging their heels with their flagship device. Get the Taichi out there and they'll see things pick up smartly.

    Gonna get my copy free through my uni's Dreamspark account. No incentive to pay for it - like you said, Win 7 is fine

    I would have bought it but seeing as its upgrade only I can't install it onto my Mac (unless i buy win 7 then upgrade) or is there a way to do a full install from the upgrade?

    I'm a tech enthusiast and power user of both Windows and Mac platforms, and within my own little realm of existence I don't know a single friend, family member or work colleague that is currently using Windows 8.

      I'm a tech enthusiast and power user of Windows. I preordered the upgrade along with 3 other close friends and I know of 2 family members who have since bought the upgrade.

      Thought I'd just add a comment from the other side.

        My gf and I use 8. Two of my friends use 8.

        I'm a tech enthusiast and power user of Ubuntu. I didn't buy the upgrade, in fact I don't buy anything, along with 2 other friends and 3 family members. Thought I'd just add a comment from yet another side.

        Yeaaa none of that is true, I'm a keen Win 7 user but I'll probably upgrade soon enough. No real incentive to do it though.

        PS: sent from my Windows XP computer - haters gonna hate.

    Hoping to upgrade my laptop to Win8 very soon. My brother-in-law is a tech head and has installed it on his media machine and laptop. Win8 as a media device is extremely easy to use and looks good. It has given the laptop new life as it is about 3 years old and it's age was beginning to show. Win8 runs like a dream on in.

      Yeah that's one big positive I'm considering when I upgrade mine. From what I've heard it runs better on most older computers than Win 7, and mine is starting to show its age also.

      All they need to do is allow us to get the start menu back without any third party tools etc and I'm sold on it.

        I disagree. The new start menu can have everything the old start menu can have, as well as allowing more organization, instant updates by looking at the tile, greater customization, and a just a better look (I admit the last point is personal preference).

        It would be like asking Microsoft to bring back the Windows 95 login screen because I was more comfortable with it (i.e. found it easier to use and look at). It's a waste.

          Yeah that's fair enough, each to their own I guess. I can get used to the start screen, but it just doesn't seem too productive to me compared to the traditional desktop interface, considering my machine is a desktop lol. The live tiles and all that are good, but I'm hardly going to use them because I'd rather have the flexibility of the desktop interface like I always have. I installed the consumer preview and gave the new interface a shot, but still spent nearly all my time in desktop mode.

          The only use I'll get out of the start screen is to launch apps I've installed but can't find on the desktop because there's no start menu. In other words I'll only use it because I'm forced to.

            It is far more productive than the Vista/Win7 Start Menu, in that you can get to the thing you need much more easily most of the time. You really aren't being forced to use it, you can still pin shortcuts onto your desktop or taskbar and you can right-click in the bottom-left corner to get to things like Control Panel without going to the Start Screen. It really is a huge improvement over the Start Menu once you get into it.

              I guess it's come a fair way since the consumer preview, thanks for the info though. I don't hate the start screen etc, it will just take some getting used to but I'll get there.

                Most of it was in place in the Consumer Preview, they have just neatened it up a little.

    I know plenty of people who are still on XP, because "it's been reliable" or "I'm most comfortable with it". Others have looked at it and said "Oh. Too different. Screw that", not realising that after a few minutes working with Windows 7 or 8, you'll see that the "bad" differences are cosmetic. If my legally blind mother-in-law can use Windows 8, everyone else can.

    There are several ways that Microsoft fudge the numbers to get "40 Million Licenses sold."
    Firstly - licenses for Windows RT, Windows 8 Embedded and other specialised versions of Windows 8 count towards the number.
    Secondly - she OEM Windows 8 Pro license can be downgraded to Windows 7. Because of this, almost all new machines now ship with a Windows 8 license, even though the actual install may be pre-downgraded to Windows 7 (pretty much any machine aimed at business users ). This is where the largest portion of the '40 million' is coming from
    Thirdly - similar to the OEM licenses, the volume license version of Windows 8 can be downgraded to Windows 7. This means that any customer upgrading from XP to Windows 7 has to actually buy a Windows 8 license and then downgrade back to Windows 7, thus boosting the Windows 8 license sales number.
    Lastly - customers with volume license agreements with active maintenance (Software Assurance) on their Windows licenses automatically became licensed for Windows 8 when it was released. This counts towards the total as well.
    So I would expect the actual number of Windows 8 deployments (as compared to license sales) to be quite low, and almost all coming from the retail / enthusiast sections of the market.

      First, Windows RT isn't included in the figure. Microsoft distinguishes RT from 8 in all of their press releases. They have common elements in their cores but they're distinguished license-wise in much the same way Apple distinguishes iOS and MacOS. Embedded is also not included because A) it's not released yet (Embedded 8 is at release preview stage) and B) licensing for Embedded editions of Windows is handled through a separate and incomparable method tied to hardware units.

      Second and third, I'd like to see your data on how many new Windows 7 deployments there were in the last month. Microsoft's sales rate of Windows 7 for the three months prior to Windows 8 launching were averaging 16 million per month, so your assertion that the 'largest portion' of the 40 million Windows 8 license sales in its first month is plainly false.

      Lastly, volume licensing with active maintenance doesn't randomly throw license upgrades around, the upgrade key has to be requested through the volume licensing interface first and it's generated at request time. Active maintenance grants the right to a license, it doesn't grant the license itself until it's requested, so those don't count for the total until the volume license holder requests the keys for upgrade purposes.

      There are legitimate questions about how many deployments there are in comparison to the number of licenses sold, but your assertions seem to be based on personal feeling rather than actual evidence.

    and if you’re on XP, well, you probably forgot that you even own a computer.

    I only use XP in my VM's at work and home, and I use it daily. It runs everything I need and is low on resources.

      No, it is not. XP runs twice as many processes as Windows 8, which uses up a lot more resources. Upgrading my Atom powered netbook to Win8 turned it from a horrible, useless pile of garbage into a usable (but slow) PC. XP is the most resource-hungry version of Windows ever.

        You must be joking, MM. Windows ME had memory leaks in the base system that consumed all the system resources after a few days of operation and had it taking up to 30 seconds just to open the start menu for some people. Bugs aside, Vista had a larger resource footprint than both XP and 7 and was arguably the most resource-hungry Windows release that wasn't caused by bugs. Vista wasn't the disaster a lot of people say it was, but it was heavy. 7 improved on that, and 8 has improved on it even further.

    I upgraded from 7 to 8 at home for two reasons: to make sure I learn 8 ahead of the crowd and to access to store. I've still got one XP machine: a Dell Mini 9" netbook which works just fine as-is.

    At work, we expect to replace iPads with RT tablets and convertibles. Most users want email, web and photo/video apps wrapped up in a quality UI. The RTs should reduce expediture on laptops for those who just need the basics. The inclusion of Office is a boon.

    Both Google and Apple have not shown an understanding of the needs of administators of large fleets, so I'm hoping that we'll be able to manage RT machines as easily as we do Win 7 machines. Integration with for logins, centralised software management and integration with Sharepoint, Exchange and Dynamics CRM are all more likely to come from Redmond than the southern states... in my opinion.

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