How Microsoft plans to sell a 'couple hundred million' more Windows 7 PCs before Windows 8

Given there's still a year (give or take) until Windows 8 launches, what is Microsoft's game plan to keep the bottom from dropping out of the Windows PC market?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

As Microsoft's fourth-quarter fiscal 2011 earnings made clear, Windows 7 sales -- with the glaring exception of netbooks -- are good, but not as good as they used to be. Given there's still a year (give or take) s until Windows 8 launches, what is Microsoft's game plan to keep the bottom from dropping out of the Windows PC market?

The enterprise market will likely keep Windows 7 sales chugging, as many larger businesses are only now finally deploying Windows 7, after months of planning and testing. And, as Microsoft execs said during yesterday's earnings call, the emerging market countries are snapping up a lot of Windows 7, though at lower prices -- and with substantially higher piracy rates -- than the "developed" nations.

It's probably safe to assume Microsoft will launch another upgrade-guarantee program, as it traditionally does a few months before a new operating system launch, allowing those purchasing current Windows-model PCs to get a free upgrade to the next Windows release once it's out.

But Microsoft needs to keep consumer demand coming in for Windows 7 if the company plans to sell "those couple of hundred million PCs between now and 'Windows 8'" that Microsoft expects to move, according to OEM Chief Steve Guggenheimer, who spoke at Microsoft's recent Worldwide Partner Conference. (Note: Microsoft officials said that the company has sold 400 million Windows 7 licenses since the product was introduced in 2009.)

Even though Microsoft doesn't make Microsoft-branded PCs, increasingly it is positioning itself as selling Windows PCs (no doubt thanks to a little lot of pressure from archrival Apple). This is one of the slides Microsoft General Manager of Worldwide OEM Distribution, Terry Hagerty, showed during her session on "OEM Through Distribution" (slide deck available to registered partner show attendees only) at the Worldwide Partner conference in Los Angeles on July 11.

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Microsoft has begun making available a "Windows 7 Featured PCs" list to distributors to try to get more information out about the breadth and depth of Windows 7 PCs available to consumers and businesses, Hagerty told her Partner Conference audience. This is a "best in class" list for sales, marketing and technical teams that Microsoft is hoping they use to "create excitement and demand for Windows 7 PCs."

There are a number of Windows PC form factors and models that many current and potential users -- who don't go to trade shows where they can see lots of different Windows PC models from different vendors side-by-side -- have no idea even exist. Retail chains usually only stock a few Windows PCs, and Microsoft brick-and-mortar stores, for now, are very few and far between. (Microsoft officials have said they plan to open 75 more MIcrosoft retail stores in the next two to three years, and will expand the stores internationally.)

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Here's a sample of the July Windows 7 Featured PC list for consumers from Hagery's slide deck:

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Here's a sample of the Windows 7 Featured PC list for businesses:

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One observation: Microsoft isn't touting any of the available Windows 7 PCs as "tablets" in these materials. It uses the word "companion" to describe slates/tablets in its two Featured PC sample pages. And the PC matrix slide above doesn't use the "tablet" designation at all, either. Instead, it describes Windows "slates" as "PCs with no built-in keyboard or mouse and which use touch and/or pen for input." Maybe Microsoft is trying to distance itself from its less-than-successful tablet past (and not-so-plucky tablet present)?

In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens with Windows and Windows 7 PC demand in the coming few months, as Microsoft finally begins sharing more specifics about Windows 8....

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