Windows 8 is depressing PC sales in record numbers, warns IDC

PC sales are plummeting because consumers are confused and unhappy with Windows 8, and there's no end in sight. So concludes an IDC report, which says the sinking sales are the worst it's ever seen.

The IDC report found that worldwide PC shipments were 76.3 million units in 2013's first quarter, down 13.9% from a year previous, and even worse than the 7.7% decline that IDC had forecast. The drop is the worst that IDC has ever seen since it began tracking the PC market each quarter in 1995. It's also the fourth straight quarter that PC sales have declined year-on-year.

That's only the start of the bad news for Microsoft. IDC concludes that that decline has been fueled by the poor design and failure of Windows 8, not just by the increasing popularity of tablets. Bob O'Donnell, IDC Program Vice President, Clients and Displays had these harsh words for Windows 8 and Microsoft:

"At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market. While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices. Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market."

O'Donnell expanded on Windows 8's failings in an interview with the Seattle Times:

"While people like the general look and feel of the tiles, they’re also very confused and frustrated by the lack of start menu and spend a lot of their time in (traditional) desktop mode. So the bottom line is I think they have created a situation where it’s very difficult for people and people who have a PC that works just fine are saying it’s confusing, it costs more money and I don’t really need it."

O'Donnell and others at IDC believe that unless Microsoft makes serious changes to Windows 8 to make it more familiar and consumer-friendly, things will only get worse. Jay Chou, senior research analyst on IDC’s quarterly PC tracking service, said:

"Although IDC had not expected Windows 8 to be a significant driver to help stem the tide of PC volume decline, it now appears that without a course correction from Microsoft, the PC market is headed toward an even worse contraction for 2013 than previously thought."

O'Donnell adds that he doesn't expect Microsoft to admit its mistakes and make significant changes, telling the Seattle Times:

"I think this is the pride before the fall – because they are unwilling to make those changes, because it would show them as having given up or lost on their radical new vision."

O'Donnell is right. Microsoft made a big gamble in designing Windows 8 as an operating system designed more for tablets and touch than for traditional PCs, and in giving it dueling and confusing interfaces. Microsoft hoped that familiarizing people with the touch interface would spur people to buy Windows 8 and Windows Rt tablets, but that hasn't happened. Now it appears that Windows 8 is helping to significantly depress sales of traditional PCs as well.

Microsoft should admit its mistake and redesign Windows 8 so that people want to buy PCs based on it. To keep Windows 8 the way it is will only hurt sales even more.

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