Microsoft exec: Touch-based devices will lead the way towards big Windows 8 sales

Initial Windows 8 sales have likely been sluggish, but that will change once there's widespread availability of touch devices, including tablets, hybrid devices, and traditional PCs. So says one of Microsoft's top Windows executives.

Tami Reller, CFO and chief marketing officer of the Windows division, told the JP Morgan Tech Forum, held in Las Vegas where CES is taking place, that Microsoft and its partners had underestimated the demand there would be for touch devices. She believes that wider availability of touch devices will increase Windows 8 sales. A transcript of her talk has her saying:

"I think we all had a strong sense that unique touch devices, particularly touch laptops and tablets, convertibles would be in high demand. The level of demand I think surprised a lot of people. And frankly, the supply was too short. I mean, there was more demand than there was supply in the types of devices that our customers had the most demand for. And there was some misalignment between where products were distributed and where there was demand."

Still, she insisted that Windows 8 sales were on par with those of Windows 7, with 60 million copies of Windows 8 sold between its launch date and this week.

That number is difficult to verify, because it covers licenses for devices that have shipped, but that have not necessarily been sold to consumers. So there's no way to know right now the true consumer uptake.

There's plenty of evidence, though, that the consumer uptake lags well behind Windows 7 at the same point in their history. Net Applications reports that in December 1.7 percent of desktops, notebooks, and laptops browsing the Web used Windows 8, well below what Windows 7 had at the same point in its deployment cycle. InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard notes that at the same time in Windows 7's life cycle, it had a 21 percent market share.

And Computerworld's Gregg Keizer reported that Windows 8 lags behind even Windows Vista in uptake during the same time frame. He wrote:

At the same two-month mark in Vista's release timetable, that OS accounted for 2.2% of all Windows systems, double the month prior.

Reller may be right that the availability of more touch-based devices will help increase Windows 8 sales. But I don't believe it's a long-range solution. I expect that touch-based PCs and notebooks will remain a relatively small, niche market, and won't drive mass consumer acceptance. For now I think there's unmet demand because early adopters and tech enthusiasts want touch-based PCs. But I don't think the mass market wants them, and so I don't see touch as being a Windows 8 savior.

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