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Microsoft hesitates to trumpet Windows 10; fears consumers will delay PC purchases

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 14, 2014
Smart to focus on enterprises first.

This cycle, Microsoft devoted its initial revelations to enterprise-oriented features, a smart move since corporate customers have shunned Windows 8.

But Silver's impression -- that continued PC sales are also on Microsoft's mind -- has merit, too: The personal computer business in general, those powered by Windows in particular, is different now than in 2011.

Then, sales were booming. In the quarter when Microsoft introduced Windows 8's Developer Preview, the PC industry shipped a record 96.1 million machines, what Computerworld has dubbed "Peak PC" because since then volumes have constantly contracted when measured against the same period of the prior year.

Now, PC sales are trying to climb out of a historic slump. In the third quarter of 2014, IDC estimated that computer makers shipped 78.5 million systems. If accurate, that would represent an 18% decline since the same quarter in 2011.

Another headwind for Microsoft is that more of the personal computers shipped in 2014 do not rely on Windows. Apple's Macs, for instance, accounted for 6.3% of the September quarter's estimated machines, half a percentage point more than the year before. And Chromebooks, which had been on sale only a few months when Microsoft delivered Windows 8 Developer Preview, now represent 3% to 5% of all personal computers sold in the U.S.

Bottom line: Sales of PCs running Windows will drop by more than 5% for the year.

Microsoft could soften any impact of the news of Windows 10 on this year's fourth quarter sales -- even if it made more noise about the new OS -- by pledging that PCs bought now will be eligible for a free or discounted upgrade to Windows 10. The company has regularly done that in the past, but has typically waited until about four months before the new operating system's release to do so.

Three years ago, Microsoft sold a $15 Windows 8 upgrade to customers who had purchased a Windows 7 PC starting June 2, 2011.

Most Microsoft watchers believe that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade from Windows 8.1, but Microsoft has not yet confirmed that.

Microsoft has said it will wrap up work on Windows 10 by mid-2015, but Silver was less optimistic about the timing. "We'll probably see Windows 10 pre-loaded on devices for the holidays next year, he said last week. "That would certainly make sense."


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