May 07, 2013 (10:05 AM EDT)
What Microsoft Windows 8 License Numbers Don't Say

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8 Things Microsoft Could Do To Save Windows 8
8 Things Microsoft Could Do To Save Windows 8
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Microsoft revealed Monday that it has sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses, a number that roughly matches Windows 7's sales volume at the same point in its lifecycle.

The disclosure continues an ongoing war of emphasis between Microsoft and industry observers -- since the new OS launched, Microsoft has touted robust license sales, while analysts have emphasized Win8's modest market share and role in the slumping PC market.

This time, however, the software giant acknowledged that many users have been dissatisfied with Windows 8. A significant change in tone, the concession emphasizes the importance of Windows Blue -- an update expected this summer -- in determining if Windows 8 joins the ignominious ranks of Windows Vista or climbs to the heights of Windows 7 and XP.

[ Windows 8 convert? Here's how to outfit your laptop for less than $25 total. Read 8 Windows 8 Apps Under $25. ]

To date, public discussion of Windows 8 has followed a simple, two-step cycle: analysts and reviewers declare that the OS has underperformed, and a short time later, Microsoft insinuates the exact opposite. Win8 launched to middling reviews in October and failed to make waves over the traditionally lucrative holiday season, for example, but that didn't stop Microsoft from boasting in early January that the newest Windows had sold 60 million licenses, on par with the debut of its well-received predecessor, Windows 7.

This back-and-forth has persisted throughout the spring: headlines proclaimed doom and gloom for the ailing PC market only to have Microsoft report relatively decent Windows earnings; multiple sources indicated that Windows 8's real-world adoption has been sluggish, only to have Microsoft announce that 100 million licenses have been sold. And so on.

Some of the dissonance stems from simple math. There are more PCs in the world today than there were when Windows 7 debuted. To match the previous version's market share growth, Windows 8 would have needed to sell substantially more licenses, not merely kept pace.

Moreover, even if Windows 8 were the most praised OS in history, enterprise refresh cycles essentially prohibited it from bettering Windows 7's launch. Many businesses either just migrated or are in the process of migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7. Given that Win7 has come to be appreciated as a reliable performer, businesses had little incentive to investigate a new OS, especially because Windows 8's touch-oriented interface doesn't yet provide obvious benefits for the bulk of enterprise users. Windows 7 also had the benefit of following Windows Vista, which was generally panned by critics and abandoned by many users. Lacking a weak predecessor or immediate access into the enterprise, Windows 8 was limited from the start.

Not all of Win8's struggles are easily excused, however. With widespread enterprise deployments at least a year away, Microsoft hoped consumers would embrace its newest offering. The company's decision to de-emphasize the traditional desktop UI in favor of touch-sensitive Live Tiles, for example, was motivated largely by tablets, whose popularity among consumers has contributed mightily to slowed PC sales. Despite Microsoft's ambitions, many found the OS's hybrid interface confusing. A dearth of both apps and attractive touch-enabled hardware only compounded these criticisms.