52 percent of U.S. adults have never heard of Windows 8

Associated Press poll conducted late last week brings sobering surprises, none of which bode well for Windows in the enterprise

Sometimes it's easy to forget that Windows cognoscenti live in an echo chamber.

Last week, as Microsoft prepared its gala rollout of Windows 8, the Associated Press conducted a phone survey of 1,200 adults in the United States. Highlights included the following:

  • Fifty-two percent had never even heard of Windows 8.
  • Of the 48 percent who had heard of Windows 8, only 39 percent expressed an interest in buying a new laptop or desktop computer running Windows 8. To look at it another way, only 19 percent of the people surveyed showed an interest in buying a new PC with Win8.
  • Of the 48 percent who had heard of Windows 8, only 35 percent thought it would represent an improvement over Windows 7. That means 17 percent of the people surveyed thought Win8 would be better.

Frankly, those numbers don't surprise me. I recently spent several weeks traveling around the western United States and spent time talking with everyday Windows users at dozens of computer stores in the region. When talking about Windows 8, the most common response I encountered was apathy. Few people milling about the computer stores thought that Windows 8 would do anything that they wanted to have done. They were far more interested in the latest tablets.

The reaction I saw from sales clerks was even more foreboding. Most of them didn't even have a rudimentary knowledge of the new operating system. ("What's the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT?" elicited many blank stares.) The only topic they could all agree on: The next version of Windows Surface better be cheaper than an iPad. PCs just aren't selling, and price is a key determining factor with tablets.

When I mentioned that several analysts felt PC and Windows sales had declined sharply in the past quarter because consumers were waiting to buy Windows 8 machines, I received many guffaws and a few hearty laughs. Nobody, but nobody, selling Windows computers figured their sales were off in breathless anticipation of Windows 8. At least, nobody I met.

To its credit, Microsoft called this one right. Sales of Windows on the desktop and laptops will continue for the foreseeable future, certainly, but only as a kind off lethargic homage to intellectual inertia. People know how to use Windows, and they aren't going to throw that knowledge away. But almost all consumers -- and most members of the rank-and-file sales force -- are looking at alternatives.

That doesn't bode well for Windows in the enterprise.

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