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PC makers unsure about where Microsoft Windows 8 is going

Is Windows 8 a success? Microsoft has been painting a very rosy picture of late but market watchers and the computer makers trying to sell PCs running the new operating system have been decidedly less exuberant in their assessments.

Microsoft reported last week that it had already sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses since the next-gen operating system was released last month. Those numbers would compare more than favorably with early adoption of Windows Vista and Windows 7, the direct predecessors of Windows 8, but some analysts and researchers have already quibbled with Redmond's figures.

A few days ago, for example, NPD released a report suggesting that new laptop and tablet sales have actually declined since Windows 8 was released. Computer makers have also reported relatively sluggish sales of Windows 8 products.

"Demand for Windows 8 is not that good right now," David Chang, chief financial officer for Asus, told The Wall Street Journal last Tuesday. The newspaper also reported that Acer executives "were uncertain how Windows 8 would be received by consumers."

Meanwhile, word from Taiwan-based components suppliers suggests Microsoft may have slashed this year's orders for Surface RT tablets by as much as half, from 4 million units to 2 million, in the face of lower-than-expected demand.

The software giant has disputed that report, which originated with the Taiwan-based tech journal DigiTimes, but makers of Windows RT-based tablets- Asus, Samsung, and Dell - are also reportedly experiencing "weak" consumer demand for those devices.

Microsoft's first self-branded consumer tablet runs Windows RT, the Windows 8 variant optimized for ARM processors. Redmond said last week that a Windows 8 tablet powered by Intel chips, the Surface Pro, will be released in January.

Now Wired has published a round-up of OEM opinion about Windows 8 that raises more questions about the operating system's early performance in the market.

The tech site's Alexandra Chang sounded out executives from top PC makers Toshiba, Sony, and Dell for their assessment of Windows 8 in the early stages. While no one directly dinged Microsoft over its roll-out of the new OS the way Acer and Asus execs have in the past, the consensus was that Redmond was probably "more optimistic" about rapid consumer adoption than was warranted.

"The expectations of what we forecasted for - I don't want to say we're right on track - we're probably close to being on track to where we predicted," Sony VAIO product manager Dave McFarland told Wired. "If I had to compare Windows Vista to Windows 7 versus Windows 7 to Windows 8, our sales numbers aren't as high as from the Vista to Windows 7 era."

Jeff Barney, vice president and general manager of Toshiba America's PC and TV business, told the tech site that the days when "Windows was the only game in town" appeared to be over. He said early sales of Windows 8 products were in line with Toshiba's expectations but guessed that Microsoft had a more aggressive initial forecast than his company.

None of the executives cited by Wired called Windows 8 or Microsoft's marketing of it a disappointment, just that it was taking a bit of time for sales to get on track for various reasons.

"I'm not saying it's all gloom. The outlook looks pretty good for us," McFarland told Wired, while Neil Hand, Dell's VP of global end user computing, called "the support and messaging from Microsoft" around Windows 8 "extremely strong."

"Any big transition like this takes more than few weeks to take hold," he added.