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Analysing Windows 8’s launch and Microsoft’s evasive sales figures

Here’s an interesting question: How many computers are actually running Windows 8 or Windows RT? How many laptops, desktops, convertibles, and tablets, have made the jump to Microsoft’s next-generation, touch-oriented operating system?

You see, beyond Microsoft’s inner circle in Redmond, no one knows. Despite being pushed for comment by journalists, pundits, and analysts for three months, the only figure that Microsoft is publicly sharing is the number of Windows 8 licenses sold. This figure currently stands at 60 million, which according to Microsoft is similar to Windows 7′s “sales trajectory.”

60 million sounds very grand – which is of course Microsoft’s intention – but now we have to add some caveats. How many of those 60 million copies have actually been installed? How many are sitting on store shelves, or in OEM inventories? Does that figure include Windows RT? We haven’t heard a peep from Microsoft about either Windows RT or Surface RT, and the company has refused to comment when asked whether the 60 million includes both Windows 8 and RT.

What we do have, however, is a lot of data from retailers and OEMs – and when we factor in their sentiment, it perhaps illustrates why Microsoft is so reticent when it comes to exact installation figures. Over in the States, a Newegg senior vice president described Windows 8 sales as “slow going” last November, then Net Applications chimed in with some damning statistics, and now HP’s PC boss Todd Bradley has said that Windows 8 has experienced “a slower start than many people expected.” This is the same Bradley who trashed the Surface RT, calling it “kludgey.”

At this point, while we can still only guess at how many PCs are running Windows 8 or RT, it’s fairly safe to assume that neither OS is doing particularly well. Perhaps a better question to ask, then, is why?

There are three likely reasons for Windows 8′s lacklustre adoption rate. The first, and most obvious, is that users simply don’t want – or aren’t ready for – Windows 8. Whether it’s the abominable “Metro” Start screen, or the relatively short list of upgrades for Windows 7 users, Windows 8 just isn’t very desirable.

The second reason is that the PC industry itself is in decline, and in a big way. This wasn’t unexpected – tablets and smartphones have been nibbling at the PC’s heels for a while now – but it was hoped that Windows 8 would somehow kick-start sales, especially with the sales boost from Black Friday and Christmas. We can either assume that this is down to Windows 8′s innate lack of desirability, or that iOS and Android are already too entrenched for Windows 8 to establish a beachhead.

A third possible reason is that Windows 8 just doesn’t hit the mark. It is clearly a touch-oriented OS, and yet according to NPD touchscreen laptops account for only 4.5 per cent of Windows 8 sales in the US. We’ve heard similar rumblings from retailers, which report that cheap laptops still dominate the sales charts, with touchscreen laptops and tablets unable to get a foot in the door. It’s worth noting that the same report from NPD also says that the consumer electronics market in general, despite the boom of smartphones and tablets, is slumping.

In all likelihood, it’s probably a noxious combination of all three circumstances.

On the hardware front, Intel’s upcoming fourth-gen Ultrabook specification (and Haswell CPUs) could certainly spark some interest, but we still have no idea about whether consumers actually want a Windows 8 tablet, or a touchscreen laptop – or, in the case of transformers, both. As we know, hardware is nothing without software. Again, Microsoft doesn’t give any exact figures, but the Windows 8 Store is now up to around 30,000 apps – a fraction of the iOS or Android markets, and the quality of many apps is questionable, plus a bunch of key apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify are still missing.

If you’ve made the jump to Windows 8, be sure to check out our extensive collection of 50 top tips and tricks for the OS. If you’re still on the fence, remember that you only have until January 31 to get Windows 8 Pro for £25.