Can 200 million licenses be wrong? Windows 8 hits major milestone

Windows 8 isn't quite the next Vista after all.

Microsoft announced that it has sold 200 million Windows 8 licenses in about 15 months. That's way ahead of Windows Vista, which only hit 180 million licenses after 18 months, but well behind Windows 7, which only took a year to reach 240 million licenses sold.

Windows 8 had originally been keeping pace with its predecessor, hitting 100 million licenses sold as of last May. The fact that Windows 8 has fallen behind may explain why Microsoft had been keeping quiet about sales over the last several months.

200 million sold: Is that bad or good?

It's hard to say how much of Windows 8's slower performance is due to the rise of smartphones and tablets versus the polarizing nature of the operating system itself. While Windows 8's touch-centric design has no shortage of critics, analysts believe the traditional PC market was due for a slowdown anyway, as users upgrade less often and purchase more tablets instead.

Windows 7 may have also benefited from the disastrous reception to Vista, along with the explosion of cheap netbooks—a market that has since collapsed, their role largely filled by mobile devices.

“The PC is still a very high volume product, clearly,” said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research. “The results of Windows 7 in some respect reflected a pent-up demand following some of the disappointments of Windows Vista, and Windows 7 was very-well received.”

The key metric for Microsoft, Rubin said, isn't so much total licenses as the movement of Windows into new categories, such as tablets and hybrids.

So far, it's been a mixed bag. Microsoft has seen soaring revenue on its Surface tablets, though that may be largely driven by deep price cuts on last year's models. Usage of Surface tablets with Windows RT is still far behind Android tablets and Apple's iPad, and third-party tablet makers have fled from RT in droves.

ROBERT CARDIN

Hybrids like Dell's superb XPS 2 haven't wooed people away from traditional notebooks.

As for hybrids and convertibles, NPD analyst Stephen Baker said that roughly 40 percent of Windows notebooks sold in the consumer market have touch screens. However, the “vast majority” of those devices are traditional clamshells, rather than 2-in-1 devices that transform into a tablet. Microsoft hasn't quite succeeded at answering the iPad, but it's making headway at hauling Windows into a world where touch is expected.

“We're close to being at a point where people just want touch everywhere, but we're not quite there yet,” Baker said.

In the meantime, there are signs that Microsoft does want to boost Windows sales for traditional laptop users. A forthcoming update to Windows 8.1 adds numerous features that make the modern side of the operating system easier to use without a touch screen, and leaked builds of it even boot to the desktop by default on devices without a finger-friendly display.

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