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Dell blames 'uncertain adoption' of Windows 8 for some of its financial woes

Gregg Keizer | April 1, 2013
Dell blamed Microsoft's Windows 8 as one of several causes for its grim financial future, according to a Friday filing with U.S. securities regulators.

Dell blamed Microsoft's Windows 8 as one of several causes for its grim financial future, according to a filing with securities regulators.

"The difficult environment faced by the Company as a result of its underperformance relative to a number of its competitors [includes] ... the uncertain adoption of the Windows 8 operating system," Dell said in a lengthy proxy statement filed Friday with the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The proxy statement laid out Dell's case for shareholders accepting a $24.4 billion offer, led by its founder and CEO, Michael Dell, to take the PC maker private. Michael Dell has joined with private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners to buy the company, with Silver Lake in turn tapping Microsoft for a $2 billion contribution.

Michael Dell's proposal has been threatened by recent counter-offers from private-equity fund manager Blackstone and a group coordinated by investor Carl Icahn.

In the proxy, Dell also blamed other factors for its troubled PC business, including "unexpected slowdowns in enterprise Windows 7 upgrades," as well as a lengthening PC replacement cycle and a rush to the bottom toward lower-margin systems. The Round Rock, Texas company also cited the widely-reported shift in consumer dollars from PCs to tablets and smartphones.

Dell acknowledged that it's not playing in the hottest technology markets, admitting that it sells only "limited quantities" of tablets and doesn't manufacture smartphones.

While the blame placed on Windows 8 was not a surprise -- reports of sluggish sales have dogged the operating system since its launch in October -- Dell's naming Windows 7 was.

What's striking is that Dell is better known for selling PCs to enterprises than to consumers. Slowing sales of Windows 7 machines at Dell may indicate that corporations have largely completed their migrations from Windows XP.

If accurate and an industry-wide trend, Microsoft could face even tougher times ahead. The company has regularly touted Windows 7 penetration in the enterprise -- in January, Peter Klein, Microsoft's CFO, said 60% of the world's enterprise desktops were running Windows 7 -- and asserted that sales of the popular OS would continue.

"I expect to see sort of a steady drumbeat between now and end-of-life for XP support in April 2014 for [Windows 7 migrations] to continue," Klein said during the January earnings call with Wall Street. "I would expect to see that continue over the next year, year-and-a-quarter."

Still, the onus on Windows 8 was notable coming from Dell, a long-time partner of Microsoft. But it jibes with other analysis and data, ranging from allegations that Windows 8 failed to deliver the sales "pop" that new editions traditionally provide, to a lethargic usage increase that has been slower than that of Windows Vista, the 2007 edition that has been labeled one of Microsoft's rare flops.


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