Analyzing the Windows 8 sales numbers: Chicken, meet egg

Analyzing the Windows 8 sales numbers: Chicken, meet egg

Summary: When trying to assess how many copies of Windows 8 and Windows RT Microsoft has sold to date, it's tough, but important, to try to separate causes from effects.


For the past few months -- really, since the day Windows 8 and Windows RT became commercially available in late October 2012 -- there have been lots of attempts to calculate how it's really selling.


Microsoft officials have said Windows 8 is selling at the same clip as Windows 7 did.

Microsoft's figures are measurements of Windows upgrades, which are sold at a discount to existing Windows users, plus licenses sold to OEMs. (OEMs don't buy Windows licenses on a "just-in-time" basis, I've heard. Instead, they attempt to predict what they'll sell and then order a set number of licenses at least a month ahead of time, according to one source of mine.) Microsoft's latest claim of 60 million Windows 8 licenses sold might or might not include sales of Windows RT, too. (Company officials have declined to say.)

NPD tracks a different set of numbers -- copies of Windows sold preinstalled on PCs sold at retail. (NPD's numbers include neither Surface RT sales nor in-store Windows upgrade sales.) Neither Microsoft's nor NPD's estimates includes sales of Windows through volume license agreements, which is how users like the  U.S. Department of Defense recently bought Windows (and Office) licenses, which will allow the agency to deploy Windows 8 and/or to downgrade to an older version of Windows.

In addition to the discrepancies around what's being counted, no one seems to agree which is the chicken and which is the egg in the Windows-sales equation. By that, I mean the set of circumstances which one Microsoft watcher considers to be the "cause" is seen by another as the "effect."

Example: Are Windows PCs failing to sell as well as in previous years because users are confused by and unhappy with Windows 8? Or is it that PC sales were already in free-fall and it's only the release of Windows 8 that's keeping them even marginally afloat?

Another: Was it the shortage of touch-enabled Windows 8 and Windows RT PCs and tabets that led to lower-than-expected retail sales this past holiday season? Or was it the higher price Windows OEMs are charging for touch-enabled PCs and tablets that have led to less-than-stellar sales?

My personal favorite: Microsoft officials say users have been actively seeking out touch-enabled Windows 8 PCs and tablets. But maybe they're just looking for new Windows tablets and PCs and soon (once existing non-touch-enabled PC inventories are depleted) will have no choice but to get touch-enabled ones.

And one more: Did Microsoft's decision to advance the date when it started encroaching on OEM territory by selling the Surface through retailers like Best Buy and Staples lead to some of these OEMs' lessening enthusiasm for Windows 8 and Windows RT? Or did Microsoft have no choice but to push the Surfaces through more retailers because of the dearth of Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets and PCs from OEMs in retail stores?

Outside of a chosen few inside Microsoft, no one really knows how many Surface RT devices Microsoft has sold, or how many copies of Windows 8 have been activated by consumers. There've been lots of guesses, educated and otherwise. I'd argue the muddling of causes and effects in all these estimates adds another layer of complexity to attempts to determine whether Windows 8 and Windows RT are "successes" or "failures."

Topics: Windows 8, Tablets, PCs, Microsoft Surface


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • That's always going to be the issue

    you have multiple OEM's creating and selling Windows 8 tablets and PC's in a variety of form factors and prices, so trying to get numbers from multiple sources that are still doing the math themselves will never be easy

    Even Apple went from giving number of activations, to just the numbers sold to retail partners, stores, and customers once those multiple locations where epanded beyond just AT&T to include Verizon, Walmart, Target, ect
    William Farrel
    • No, it is NOT "always going to be the issue"

      All MS has to do is give us the numbers, by some reasonable categories, plain and simple.

      Why are they not?

      THAT is the issue.
      • Umm, They did

        Microsoft did give you/us numbers. They first announced 40 million and then a bit later 60 Million Licenses sold.

        This is how Microsoft has always announced their numbers, why do you or anyone else expect a different statistic?

        OEM's wouldn't continue buying more licenses from Microsoft if devices were not selling. It simply wouldn't make any sense.
        • "why do you or anyone else expect a different statistic?"

          I expect a different statistic because they are selling additional products. Prior to October, Microsoft was selling Windows 7 software and Windows 7 phones. Now, Microsoft is selling Windows 8 software, Windows RT, Surface and Windows 8 phones. Different numbers are expected for different products.
          • Ha! Now thats funny.

            You really think just exactly that? Ha.

            Well I guess WIndows 8 and Windows 7 certainly are not exactly the same...but seriously.
      • They did. They told you what they sold to users and retail parters.

        I think you even commented on that story a few time.

        What this blog is related to is devices.

        Why don't YOU get together with Dell, HP, Acer, Lenovo, Tiger direct, Best Buy, ect and see what was sold and what wasn't. Even Apple can't tell you what their retail partners sold.

        Isn't that an issue too, or doesn't that count because you only want to spin MS, Apple (as always) beyond reproach?
        William Farrel
        • Cost of information doesn't matter to some people...

          "Why don't YOU get together with Dell, HP, Acer, Lenovo, Tiger direct, Best Buy, ect and see what was sold and what wasn't. Even Apple can't tell you what their retail partners sold."

          Sounds like an expensive endeavor. Unfortunately, techies don't tend to understand or care about the cost of information. In this case, such an exercise would be hugely expensive (probably require ERP upgrades for both MS and their partners), and the resulting information wouldn't be that far from what Microsoft can already gather from their internal sales numbers.

          Of course, it's always better to spend a few million just to get a 1.5% margin of error down to 1.2%, right?
      • why that matters

        if you need windows, then you go buy it, if not then why you worry about the figure, it is not like they are going to pay you loyalty that you are so keen to find out the number. Whether they sold 60 or 100 million or just one.
        Sonlab Mehra
  • AdDuplex

    There's a third way now that most free apps use ads, AdDuplex's usage statistics.
  • Pricing!

    A lot of people disagree with me on this but the reason for Windows 8/RT machines not flying off the shelves is simply the price. Consumers want touch enabled devices but they are not going to easily give up iPad money for Windows products. Android tablets undercut Apple not only because the OS is free but because manufacturers have learned that they will not get market share if they price their tablets like the iPad.

    I have a Surface RT and I really like it. I can see the added value of Office and the TouchCover so the $599 I paid for it seems ok to me. Unfortunately, the average consumer will not always see all this added value. To them they see a $599 tablet that doesn't have the app content that Apple and Google has and they pass on it. Many are also programmed to spend $299 to $399 for Windows products because of the netbook craze.

    If MS wants to really succeed with Windows 8/RT they need to start rethinking what they charge OEM's for the licensing fees. They can keep the Surface at the premium price point if they so desire but they need to give their OEM's the ability to get these tablets in the $399 and below range.
    • Google

      has blown up phone apps and very little actual tablet apps. Just on tablet apps MS beats android. Kinda wish their was a method to download some of the phone apps you've already bought from the windows phone store that way you only buy tablet apps you really need and save some money. Im fine with how it is but I can always dream.
    • I don't think MS is worried about keeping the OEMs happy,

      and the expectation is that, MS will pounce on the opportunity to take over the manufacturing aspect of PCs and tablets, if the OEMs fail to perform as MS expects or would hope.

      MS is looking to perform in the PC/tablet arena the same way Apple does, by owning the whole pie, instead of just one slice, that one slice being the OS and the applications which make those PCs worthwhile.

      Even if MS doesn't get to own the whole PC market, their bottom line will be a lot bigger when they do get into the whole hardware and software combo. That combo will dwarf anything that Apple ever was or reached.
      • Perhaps not

        MS has in the past catered to the needs of OEMs (to include openly encouraging the purchase of new hardware to work with new Windows versions), but things appear to be changing.
        John L. Ries
  • Success or Failure

    Assuming Ed Bott is correct in his analysis [and I in what I remember of it] - and he tends to know his stuff, especially on subjects such as this - if Windows 8 sold roughly like Windows XP it would be deemed a failure right now, and for a little while longer. In other words, probably too early to tell (for another couple years).
    • Two years?

      I don't think it will take that long. Six months should be enough.
      John L. Ries
  • Here's my take on the numbers.

    Before Windows 8 was released, Microsoft announced a couple new figures for Windows 7 sales in July and October, which average out to 14M units per month from 9/13/2011 - 10/25/2012. Statcounter shows that Windows 7 was growing at a rate of .026 percentage points per day in the month leading up to Windows 8. Statcounter also shows Windows 8 growing at .026 percentage points per day currently, and selling about 14M units per month since November.

    All this means is that Windows 8 took over exactly where Windows 7 left off. We're not seeing a giant dive in sales. We're not seeing a giant spike in sales. It's just buiness as usual.
    • Good analysis

      As Mary Jo is saying, we don't know the actual numbers, but it does seem that right now Windows 8 is moving fairly business as usual. That doesn't mean that Windows 8 is necessarily a failure, just that it isn't causing the boost they expected. Assuming this is true (which, again, we don't know without firm numbers), then lack of desirable products available is likely a large part of the issue (especially since the numbers don't include Surface sales).
    • if true, then that is troubling

      When the biggest software company on the planet does a global roll out of of its completely retooled flagship OS, accompanied by a billion dollar marketing campaign, and an entirely new hardware platform, and there is no significant uptick in sales---that is troubling.

      MS is a successful company, with multiple revenue streams, a talented sales force, and world class R&D. They will find a way to dig in and get it right. Some retail vendors and hardware manufacturers that don't have the deep pockets MS has, might not be so fortunate. When MS stumbles, it isn't just MS that takes the hit.
  • Seems to be selling quite well -

    in the US - a different story elsewhere. Still, Americans are easily pleased - you only have to look at the quality and drive-ability of their cars to appreciate that.....
    The Central Scrutinizer
    • Now that is

      a real nasty comment that could only come from a true "snob"