The looming retirement of Windows XP won't stem the dramatic drop in PC sales this year, but it may help bolster Microsoft's revenue, analysts said today.
Although experts expect some business laggards to buy new hardware as they try to replace the 12-year-old XP before it's retired in April 2014, the quantities won't be enough to move the PC shipment needle to the positive side of the meter.
[ Windows 8 is here, and InfoWorld covers Microsoft's new direction, the touch interface for tablet and desktop apps, the transition from Windows 7, and more in the Windows 8 Deep Dive PDF special report. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]
"Replacements for Windows XP won't be enough to offset the declines on the consumer side," said David Daoud, an analyst with IDC.
Earlier this week, both IDC and rival Gartner released estimates of PC shipments for the first quarter. Both said sales had plummeted, with IDC pegging the contraction at 14 percent, a record in the 19 years since the firm began tracking shipments. Much of that decline was due to consumers ignoring new Windows 8 PCs, said IDC.
Microsoft has said it will not issue security updates for Windows XP after April 8, 2014, and shows no sign of bending on the date.
"They've drawn a line in the sand," said Matthew Casey of Technology Business Research.
IDC, which has already integrated potential replacement PC sales into its forecasting model, said that the new wares will contribute to a slightly better second half of 2013, along with the usual back-to-school and holiday sales seasons.
The retirement of XP "will help the commercial PC market, but it will do zero for the consumer," said Bob O'Donnell, another IDC analyst.
But while PC makers suffer, Microsoft software will come out smelling much sweeter: It's likely to reap more revenue from the disappearance of XP than will system builders, as many corporate customers will do in-place upgrades to Windows 7 on current hardware.
In February, CFO Peter Klein said that while Microsoft was seeing a mix of in-place upgrades and hardware refreshes by companies moving off XP, to date "a lot of these upgrades [are] happening on existing hardware."
That's feasible for two reasons. First, few of the machines still running XP are as old as the operating system -- corporate refreshes have taken place since XP debuted, even if many of them were downgraded to that OS to keep corporate environments as homogeneous as possible. Second, Microsoft has reduced the hardware requirements of Windows 7 to the point where the OS can run on old-but-not-ancient PCs.
Two months ago, Klein credited Windows 7 upgrades on existing hardware for boosting volume licensing revenue. In fact, Microsoft earns considerably more from an upgrade license sold to customers than it does for a new license it sells to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), or computer makers, for equipping new systems with an OS.
Rod Helm of Directions on Microsoft could not put a figure on the difference -- in part because what Microsoft charges OEMs for a new license is one of the Redmond, Wash. developer's most closely-guarded secrets -- but said that the System Builder version was the priciest OEM license Microsoft sells, and so a maximum for what it charges computer makers.