Microsoft Sells 40 Million Windows 8 Licenses in a Month: Ballmer

CEO Steve Ballmer provided the latest tally of Windows 8 progress at shareholders meeting, but didn’t provide further details that might have clarified how the operating system is being received by customers.

In a move likely aimed at quieting skeptics who say the market response to Windows 8 has been weak compared to Windows 7, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said on Nov. 28, that the company has sold 40 million licenses for the new operating system in its first month of availability.

However, Ballmer, speaking at Microsoft’s annual shareholders meeting, didn’t clarify whether the licenses were sold to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or to consumers who bought the OS or a new Windows 8 computer.

It’s more likely the latter, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, a research firm. “Typically, the OEMs don’t take ownership of the licenses. So when they say licenses that tends to mean to end users,” said Enderle.

The 40 million in the first month figure compares to an earlier figure from Microsoft that it sold 60 million Windows 7 licenses in its first two months on the market in late 2009. Roughly, that would average out to 30 million licenses a month, which would put Windows 8 ahead of the pace compared to Windows 7.

But Microsoft’s figures deserve closer scrutiny, said Mike Silver, an analyst with Gartner, who asks whether Microsoft is using the same methodology to calculate sales for each OS. He would also like to know whether the sales are to channel partners or what he called “enterprise agreements,” which are volume licensing contracts between Microsoft and an enterprise customer. Microsoft declined to provide a breakdown of the 40 million figure.

While enterprise adoption of Windows 8 is expected to be gradual, since some enterprises are still migrating to Windows 7, Ballmer did identify a number of companies that are starting to run Windows 8 somewhere in their enterprises, including Johnson & Johnson, British Telecom, Bank of America and 20th Century Fox Television Distribution.

Enderle said the strong initial sales of Windows 8 are greater than he expected given the significant change in the user interface (UI) compared to Windows 7. He anticipated customer resistance to the tiled UI layout for activating various applications, which differs significantly from the layout people are used to from Windows 7 and earlier versions.

But Gartner’s Silver thinks the issue is not whether the new UI is a turnoff but whether it’ll be a turn-on.

“For some folks it is going to be an impediment, but the bigger issue is that I’m not really sure that it’s driving that many sales itself,” he said.

Apple made the touch interface popular with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, which makes Microsoft late to the game with the Microsoft-made Surface and the other touch-enabled devices from OEM partners, Silver said. He still doesn’t think Microsoft is matching Apple in terms of buzz.

“I don’t think we’re hearing the same excitement about Windows 8,” Silver said.

The 40 million figure was also touted a day earlier than Ballmer by Tami Reller, the chief marketing officer and chief financial officer of Microsoft’s Windows division, who spoke Nov. 27 at the Credit Suisse Technology Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Reller demonstrated a few OEM devices running Windows 8 at the conference, as she did at the Microsoft Worldwide Partners Conference in Toronto in July.

In her remarks she addressed concerns that consumers would be disinclined to buy Windows 8 machines if they had to learn the new UI.

“Windows 8 is easy to get started and fun to learn,” she said, repeating comments she said were shared by customers with Microsoft. “We have this core belief that people have a desire and an ability to learn.”