Microsoft: 40M Windows 8 licenses 'in line' with early Windows 7 sales

Even so, exec urges taking the long view of Windows 8

A senior Microsoft executive on Tuesday said the company has sold 40 million licenses for Windows 8, essentially matching the first month performance of Windows 7 in late 2009.

"We have sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses so far," said Tami Reller, the new head of the Windows division's business side, at the Credit Suisse Annual Technology Conference. "The 40 million is roughly in line with Windows 7."

Analysts on Wednesday put Reller's numbers into context, and tried to divine what she meant by "sold."

"That's good, but not great," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategies, in an interview, implying that the debut of Windows 8 was not going to be enough, as some industry watchers had expected, to turn around the PC business.

Still, Moorhead said the 40 million figure was impressive. "Think about that. When Windows 7 released, everyone was eager to get away from Vista," he said. "But you don't see people running to upgrade to Windows 8."

Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, agreed. "It looks like license sales are on par with Windows 7, at least," Helm said in an email Wednesday. "That's a good result given other signs of distress in the PC market."

As Helm noted, PC sales have been flat or down year-over-year, due to continued economic issues and fierce competition for technology dollars from smartphones and especially tablets.

But at the same time, Reller seemed to dial back early expectations for Windows 8, instead arguing for a long-haul look. "Windows 8 wasn't built for just any one single selling season," she said. "It really was built for the future, the future concept for the future. And so it will take a few selling seasons to get sort of all the designs we all like into the marketplace, all the apps that we want into the Store."

Like Moorhead, Reller also noted the special circumstances around Windows 7, although she refused to utter the word "Vista," as if the name of that problem- and perception-plagued OS had been excised from the Microsoft lexicon.

"I mean, if you think about the timing of Windows 7, there was a lot of anticipation. And you can sort of fill in the blanks on why there was such great anticipation for Windows 7, but there was," Reller said when asked to compare Windows 8's start with its predecessor's.

Microsoft declined to elaborate on Reller's 40 million number, or define what licenses had been included in her tally.

Analysts, however, were not so shy, noting that the count included licenses for PCs that have not yet been sold.

"Microsoft recognizes licensing revenue as an OEM builds and ships [PCs] to a distribution point or to end customers," said Moorhead. In other words, machines that have been assembled and shipped, but not yet sold or deployed, would include licenses that Microsoft can legitimately count among the 40 million.

Without sales figures from Microsoft's OEM partners, it is impossible to tell how many PCs with already purchased licenses are not yet in customers' hands.

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