Windows 8: Down but not out

There were many tales of Windows 8 circling the drain over the holidays, but there's also hope on the horizon for Microsoft's OS

Windows 8's been in the news again and not in a good way -- again.

Net Applications, the company that measures worldwide operating system penetration by watching 40,000 websites, distilling the results from 160,000 monthly unique visitors, and adjusting the numbers based on estimates of the number of computer users in each country, now estimates that 1.7 percent of the desktop/notebook/netbook computers accessing the Internet worldwide in December were using Windows 8. Of the Win8 users, per Net Applications, about 3 percent are using the touch interface -- or about 0.05 percent of all observed computers.

Windows 7's uptake -- using the same Net Applications measuring stick  -- was around 5.7 percent at the same point in its lifetime, during December 2009. (Windows 8 hit general availability on Oct. 26, 2012; Windows 7 on Oct. 22, 2009.) 

Of course, the world was different three years ago. Windows buyers were eager to try anything not named "Vista," Windows XP owned about 56 percent of the OS pie, the iPad wasn't even a gleam in Best Buy's eye, and the various Mac OS versions just barely topped 5 percent. Three years later, Mac OS versions run over 7 percent and XP still runs on 40 percent of all observed computers.

StatCounter, the other major horse in the OS counting race, tells a less "optimistic" tale, although its calculation methods are quite different: StatCounter counts hits on the pages it follows -- 15 billion hits per month -- and doesn't reduce them to unique PCs or adjust the numbers for geographical sampling anomalies. (It's worth noting that both Net Applications and StatCounter wildly underreport Asian markets, which have seen unprecedented growth.) While Windows 8 hasn't yet made enough of an impact to emerge from the "other" category, StatCounter puts Internet Explorer 10 use in the United States at just under 1 percent in December. Of course, IE10 is now available in beta for Windows 7, bugs and all, but it ships with Windows 8.

Over on the retail side, Bloomberg's Naoko Fujimura quotes Fujitsu president Masami Yamamoto as saying that demand for Windows 8 is "weak," with demand in Europe particularly poor. Fujitsu has concommitantly lowered Windows computer sales projections for the first quarter of 2013.

Just before Christmas, Emmanuel Fromont, president of Acer Americas, told the New York Times, "It's a slow start, there's no question."

I've been watching online sales of Surface RT tablets at Microsoft Stores in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, and at Staples and Best Buy in the states, as well as Suning in China and Harvey Norman Australia. Not one of the online sites has ever shown an "out of stock" or "on order" notification.

A quick check of the major online ordering sites shows vast numbers of Windows 8-equipped notebooks for $500 or less, and many under $350. I don't see any listed as out of stock. Even the newer, touch-enabled designs are widely and immediately available, with a few sporadic exceptions.

So much for the doom and gloom -- here are the silver linings.

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