Windows 8.1 is a winner, but PC sales will plummet, says Gartner

Microsoft is caught in the ultimate good news/bad news syndrome: Windows 8.1 will likely fix Windows 8's woes, but PC sales will still take a nose dive. So says two recent Gartner reports, and they may well be right.

Last week, Gartner issued a report titled "Windows 8.1 Could Become What Windows 8 Should Have Been," which concluded that Windows 8.1 will fix many of the problems with the troubled operating system. The report touted the expected boot-to-the-desktop option and the re-introduction of Start button functions as two key features that will help.

As a result of those changes, Gartner made several recommendations to enterprises considering Windows 8.1, and they should please Microsoft. Most importantly, it recommends that any business that was only considering Windows 8 for touch devices, should also look at Windows 8.1 "for broader deployment," in other words, on traditional PCs as well.

That certainly sounds like good news, and it is. But another Gartner report throws cold water on it. A just-released report says that traditional PC sales will plummet by 15.2% in 2014 compared to 2012, going from 341.3 million units in 2012 to 289.2 million in 2014.

Microsoft share of overall computer sales -- which means smartphones, tablets, ultraportables, and traditional computers -- will decline only slightly over that time, because of an uptake in Windows-based smartphones, tablets, and ultraportables. The report found that a total of 346.5 million Windows-based devices will ship in 2012, out of 2.22 billion total units, for a 15.6% market share. In 2014, a total of 378.1 million Windows-based devices will ship, out of 2.51 billion total units, for a 15.1% market share.

The big winner will be Android, the report says, with 505.5 million units shipped in 2012 for a 22.8% market share, and 1.06 billion units in 2014, for a 42.3% market share.

The report makes one thing perfectly clear: For the next several years at least, Microsoft's glory days are behind it. Once it essentially monopolised personal computing. Today and for the next several years, it's struggling to hold onto a 15% market share. Windows 8 clearly isn't going to help that, and has likely hurt. For a big change, we may have to wait until Windows 9.

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