Bursting the Vista sales bubble

Our Windows Sentinel tracking data shows that 35 percent of mainly enterprise-class users "downgrade" their Vista systems to XP

For weeks now there've been rumors that major PC makers, like Hewlett-Packard, have been quietly selling PCs with a Vista license but actually shipping them with the now "outlawed" Windows XP installed (no doubt using the "downgrade" license loophole). For these vendors, it's all about keeping their customers happy: Buyers want XP, so vendors are finding ways to provide it -- even if the practice serves to artificially inflate the sales figures for Vista.

But do business users really want XP now that Microsoft has ended sales of new XP licenses? Because we don't have access to HP's sales data or Dell's shipping manifests, we had to find our own source of comparison data. Fortunately, one of the parameters we collect from the several thousand members of the exo.performance.network community using the Windows Sentinel monitoring tool is the name of the system manufacturer.

[ Join the exo.performance.network community, and monitor your PC's performance with the InfoWorld Windows Sentinel tool. ]

Combined with two other exo.repository data points -- system product name and Windows version -- this disclosure data allows us to identify newer systems that have traditionally shipped with Windows Vista installed. Then, by looking at the OS that's actually running on these systems when they upload their records, we can determine whether the machine has been "downgraded" to XP or, better still, formatted-over with something even more exotic, like Windows Server 2003 or 2008.

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Figure 1: What "Vista-equipped" PCs are really running

We figured that we'd find more than a few systems within our 3,000-plus-strong membership that had been "de-Vista-fied" -- either by the manufacturer or directly by the end customer. What we didn't expect was for nearly 35 percent of all current-model PCs (that is those that normally ship with Vista installed) in the repository to be running a different OS.

In other words, more than a third of customers chose to dump Vista from their new PCs -- typically in favor of XP, but sometimes also one of the Server variants.

Now, we all know that enthusiasts and even some enterprise shops do their own "clean" installations as part of any new PC purchase. And the nature of a Windows-only monitoring service, like Windows Sentinel, means that we cannot factor Linux users or even the Hackintosh crowd into our numbers. However, 35 percent is still a huge percentage, and way out of proportion for even the dramatically unpopular Windows Vista.

Clearly, this phenomenon -- customers ditching Vista in favor of its predecessor -- is no fluke, at least within the rolls of our own exo.performance.network membership. Microsoft would do well to consider this fact and perhaps rein in some of the rhetoric surrounding Windows 7 and its Vista-oriented migration strategy.

Ignore XP -- especially in light of these telling "downgrade" numbers -- and you risk creating an upgrade path that nobody is prepared to follow.