Microsoft has sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses, a sales bump of 20 million units since late November when Windows 8 hit 40 million licenses sold. Microsoft's sales number includes upgrades and sales to its manufacturing partners since it introduced the new touch-centric operating system 10 weeks ago, the company said at an event during CES Tuesday. Microsoft says the sales trajectory is similar to Windows 7. Microsoft in 2010 called Windows 7 the fastest-selling operating system in history after it sold more than 60 million licenses within the first 74 days of sales.
While the Windows 8 sales numbers sound impressive, it's not clear whether Windows 8 licensing sales are translating into computer and tablet purchases at computer shops and big box stores across the country. Except for the Surface tablet, Microsoft's sales include licensing deals with computer manufacturers. Microsoft, for example, will sell Windows 8 licenses to Samsung that the computer maker installs on devices like the Samsung Ativ PC, and those licenses count as sales for Microsoft. The same goes for licensing sales to Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and every other computer manufacturer. It's then up to those companies, with some marketing support from Microsoft, to get new Windows 8 devices in the hands of customers.
And that may not be happening quite yet. Windows 8 did little to boost holiday sales for notebooks, according to market research firm NPD, which tracks point-of-sale transactions across the U.S. In November, NPD also noted that Windows 8 was not boosting PC sales overall. Other critics are also arguing that Windows 8 is off to a slow start, and some reports claim that internally Microsoft is disappointed about the adoption rate of Windows 8 thus far.
Windows 8's struggles could be caused by many factors and are a far cry from the problems that dogged Microsoft Vista, which only surpassed 60 million licenses sold after six months of availability. The most obvious problem could be Windows 8's radical shift in user interface that includes a touch-centric start screen that relegates the traditional desktop to second-class status. High-priced devices also seem to be a major stumbling block, but critical opinion is split over whether Windows 8 PC prices need to go up or down to solve this problem.
Scarce availability of touchscreen laptops may have also played a role in Windows 8's troubles. Hybrid laptops were scarce through the holiday season in what seemed to be a shortage of touch components. And ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley noted on Tuesday that the lack of touch-enabled laptops and tablets may have hurt Windows 8's initial adoption.
"There just doesn't seem to be a lot of excitement around PCs overall right now," said Michael Silver, research vice president for market research firm Gartner. "It looks like Windows 8 was good enough to hold the market until the next version comes out. That version should fix a lot of things that are wrong with Windows 8 and maybe the rest of the ecosystem will be better-prepared by then."
Microsoft is rumored to be working on a major Windows refresh, dubbed Windows Blue, set to debut in mid-2013. It's not clear if Blue is an update to Windows 8 or a replacement for the current OS. If reports are accurate, Blue would introduce a yearly release cycle for Microsoft's operating system.
Many analysts point to mid-2013 and into early 2014 as the most likely time to expect an uptick in Windows 8, or perhaps Windows Blue, adoption.
Until then, manufacturers and people upgrading older machines seem to be adopting Windows 8 close to the same rate as the early days of Windows 7.