Windows 8 Early Days Are A Mixed Bag

The first days of Windows 8 sales have truly been a mixed bag. Now, it is still early days, so some “trends” that are being pointed out have yet to be solidified or refuted. But the “success” of Windows 8 is clearly relative, and it depends entirely on the point of view of the observer.

Setting Sales Records

Proponents and cheerleaders are stepping up behind a key number: Windows 8 adoption in the first week of sales was higher than Windows Vista or Windows 7. Now, the numbers I’ve seen quoted talk about absolute number of licences sold, which is interesting, but it leaves out something: the Windows PC installed based is a little bigger now than it was back when Vista and Windows 7 came out. So you might expect that there would be more sales and “faster adoption” simply because the installed base is bigger.

That being said, it is still encouraging for the Windows platform that Windows 8 is seeing a faster uptake than previous releases. Let’s face it, Vista was a bit of a disaster. Slow, buggy and with the “I won’t let you so much as breath without asking for permission first” security system, it wasn’t exactly a resounding success. Microsoft had no choice to but keep supporting Windows XP far longer than they wanted, because the corporate world basically said “no”. Windows 7 was a big step in the right direction (actually, a step back onto the path), easing off on the “I’m going to ask you about everything” security, improving performance and improving stability. It got some of the enterprise world to upgrade, but not all. If early results for Windows 8 looked more like Vista and less like Windows 7, that would be a bad thing.

But Not All Is Roses and Sunshine

The reviews on the Modern UI (aka Metro), particularly in a desktop setting, are mixed at best. The more pro-Microsoft reviewers tend to like it more than the anti-Microsoft ones (no surprise there). The middle-ground reviewers, though, aren’t thrilled with the Modern UI in a non-touch environment. On a conventional desktop/laptop, you can disable it, which means you’re back to the usual Windows experience (more-or-less). But for tablets, it appears that the Modern UI is the only option. Not helping Windows 8 on tablets is the spotty work on applications to work well with touch, including Microsoft’s own core applications.

While it is early, what also doesn’t appear to be happening is Windows 8 slowing the decline of PC sales. Granted, it’s only been a few weeks, but early numbers and predictions aren’t good for the traditional PC world. Tablets, particularly the iPad, continue to eat into sales and marketshare of low-end laptops. This, coupled with continued growth of the Mac in the mid-range and high-end laptop markets, is putting Windows PC growth under pressure, and there may be a decline rather than increase in the sale of Windows PCs over the next year. And no, you can’t blame “the recession” on this. Windows PC unit sales were on the increase in 2010 and early 2011, and only started to slow as the iPad continued its remarkable growth. In less than 2 years, the iPad went from non-existent to 10% of personal computer sales. To gain that much marketshare that quickly means someone had to lose sales, either replacement purchases or net new.

The Last Quarter Will Be Telling

The 4th quarter of the calendar year is an interesting one, because it encompasses two major shopping events (the US Black Friday shopping spree, combined with increased spending on Christmas). This is certainly biased more to retail activity, since a lot of enterprise spending is done earlier in the year, but it is an indicator nonetheless. If nothing else, we get a sense of just how interested retail consumers are in Windows 8, vs. a tablet from Apple, Samsung or Amazon. It should also give us a sense of where Windows 8 will be in the longer term, and whether the phenomenon of iOS and Android tablets will continue on their sharp upward trajectories.

The real indicator will be after Q1 and Q2 next year. Some enterprises get a start on their IT spending in January, and budgets and spending allowances have generally been finalized by the end of Q1, and start in Q2. How well Windows 8 does, both overall and on tablets, and how it impacts iOS and Android tablet sales will come into sharper focus. If enterprise customers decide to commit to Windows 8 wholeheartedly, then it will bode well for it, at least for the next couple of years. but if enterprise uptake is tepid, then that could be cause for alarm for the Windows world. I think there is a ways to go before we can declare Windows 8 either a hit, a dud, or something in between.