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Three weeks post-launch: Windows 8’s lacklustre start

Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Windows RT – and dozens of new touch-enabled devices, such as Redmond’s own Surface tablet – have now been on the market for three weeks. Whether you’re a critic of the new Start screen, a Windows zealot, or just an interested bystander, you’re all probably wondering the same thing: Has the Windows 8 launch been a success or not?

The short answer is: Microsoft, its OEMs, and retailers have been very quiet about the matter. Except for a press release stating that four million copies of Windows 8 had been sold in its opening weekend, Microsoft has been schtum on the matter. At the time we were concerned about the wording of that press release – it was four million copies sold, including copies sold to retailers, rather than four million installs – and now, in the wake of this continuing radio silence, we can probably infer that Windows 8 isn’t doing very well.

But wait a moment: We do have some statistics to share – but they’re from third parties, so we must take them with a big grain of salt. AdDuplex, which operates an ad platform for Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps, reports that Microsoft’s own Surface RT tablet is the most popular Windows 8/RT device to date, representing 11 per cent of all Windows 8 and RT devices sold. Overall, though, HP leads, with its various laptops and desktops making up 17 per cent of the Windows 8/RT ecosystem. Dell and Acer are next, and then the usual suspects bring up the rear.

Next, we have some data from Soluto, a company that provides a remote administration tool for Windows – and seemingly, it also tracks its users’ hardware and software specs. At the time of writing, 3.12 per cent of Soluto users are running Windows 8; 69.7 per cent run Windows 7; and 18.7 per cent run Windows XP. Breaking down those figures into form factors: 50.7 per cent of Windows 8 installs are on a desktop, 44.5 per cent are on a laptop, and just 4.6 per cent are on a tablet.

At first glance, these figures paint Windows 8 in a very positive light – but before you run out and buy MSFT stock, let me temper your optimism by reminding you of two important facts. Firstly, we have no idea how big Soluto’s sample size is. Secondly, Soluto is exactly the kind of tool that power users would install – and power users are much more likely to be early adopters.

There is no way that Soluto’s Windows 8 install base of 3.1 per cent is representative of the market as a whole. (For what it’s worth, Soluto’s stats also suggest that Windows 8 is significantly more stable than Windows 7 – though that could just be indicative of freshly installed Windows vs. old, cruddy, crufty Windows).

A quick, retrospective glance at the Windows 7 launch also gives you some idea of how poorly Windows 8 is doing. On November 10, 2009, three weeks after the release of Windows 7, Net Applications reported that 4 per cent of all web-connected devices were running Windows 7. Net Applications isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s a much more representative sample than Soluto. Net Marketshare also illustrates the general lack of hype surrounding Windows 8: As of October 2012, only 0.35 per cent of computers were running a pre-release version of Windows 8; back in October 2009, 2 per cent of computers were running a pre-release build of Windows 7.

And therein lies the crux of the matter: Even if Windows 8 is awful, the PC juggernaut virtually guarantees that by this time next year there will be 400 million PCs running the new operating system. The PC market won’t last forever, though, which is exactly why Microsoft has made a very rapid right-angle turn into the tablet market. Really, the only metric that we ought to be watching is the number of Windows 8 tablets – and at the moment, if we go by Soluto’s figures, things aren’t looking very good at all.