Microsoft's aching Windows 8 hangover

If Microsoft was looking for relief from the Windows 8 headache, it didn't get it from the holiday sales figures

Having spent the holidays in the frigid Midwest, I'm not unfamiliar with the site of a car spinning its wheels on an icy road. And that's exactly what Microsoft looks like these days, as sales of Windows 8 PCs and Surface RT tablets slip and slide every way but up.

Yes, it's early days. Windows 8 didn't launch until late October, so there's plenty of time for sales to improve. Still, it's not much of an exaggeration to say that every nearly every week since Thanksgiving has contained a dollop of distressing news for Microsoft.

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Consider these news bytes:

  • Last Friday, an online data and ad company found that Surface RT tablet users accounted for less than 0.25 percent of Web traffic during the weeks before Christmas, while users of Apple's iPad tablets still generate more than 87 percent of U.S. and Canadian tablet Web traffic.
  • On Thursday, the CEO of Japan's biggest provider of computer services said Fujitsu will miss its annual shipment target for personal computers amid slow demand for Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system.
  • The week before, Acer's America's president Emmanuel Fromont said, "It's a slow start, there's no question." At the end of November, Asus CFO David Chang said, "Demand for Windows 8 is not that good right now."
  • In early December, four weeks after its launch, Windows 8 had just a 58 percent share of Windows PCs sold during that period, while Windows 7 took 83 percent of Windows sales in its first four weeks, according to NPD, a research firm whose market share data I find to be accurate. (There's a lot of iffy data repoprted as fact because many companies don't report actual sales to customers, leaving analysts to try to figure it out on their own.) Of course PC sales have declined under Windows 8, so it was a smaller piece of a smaller pie.

Yes, Dell chairman Michael Dell said interest in Windows 8 was "quite high" in mid-December, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says demand for Windows 8 is beating Windows 7 demand. I find that almost impossible to believe, and I suspect Ballmer's numbers contain a good deal of misleading information, as my colleague Woody Leonhard argued in late November.

There's no excitement in the PC market
Shortly before Christmas, I stopped at a Best Buy store on the edge of San Francisco's Mission District. The wait to close the deal on a new iPhone or Android smartphone was about 45 minutes, but a few aisles down there was almost no one checking out the variety of Windows 8 PCs and tablets on display. Ordinarily I wouldn't set much store on one experience, but the pattern tracks with the remarks of the Asian PC makers' execs and with NPD's sales statistics.

It also tracks with Amazon.com's list of the top 100 sellers in consumer electronics. There are just two PCs listed in the top 100 devices sold as of yesterday, with the Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro at No. 82 and a Dell Inspiron running Windows 7 at No. 87. If Amazon sold iPads and iPhones, I suspect the PC wouldn't have even made the top 100 best-selling consumer electronics devices.

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