Customer satisfaction with Microsoft's software, primarily Windows, dropped slightly in the last year, likely part of the fallout over Windows 8, a national survey released today said.
Microsoft scored 74 points, down a point from the year before, in the newest poll conducted by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a consumer survey started by the University of Michigan.
The Redmond, Wash. developer is the only company whose software is used by enough Americans to generate valid results, although others are aggregated into a separate category. Those firms' software scored 76 points, also down one point from last year.
Microsoft's score, which ACSI has tracked since 2006, was four points off the all-time high of 78 in 2011, when Windows 7, the follow-up to the Vista flop, was at its height of popularity in the poll. The company's newest satisfaction score also lagged behind the national average for all industries, which was 76.6 in the first quarter of 2013.
This year's score shows that Microsoft may have a problem on its hands with Windows 8, said David VanAmburg, director of ACSI.
"It seems clear that the release of Windows 8 did not give Microsoft a significant bump, as the release of Windows 7 did, nor did it dramatically lower customer satisfaction in a rather short time frame, as the release of Vista did," VanAmburg said in an email reply to questions Tuesday.
Microsoft's ACSI rating improved each of the years from 2009 to 2011, climbing from its all-time low of 69 in 2008, the second year of Vista's general availability, before dipping again in both 2012 and 2013.
But VanAmburg cautioned against reading too much into Microsoft's scoring slump, which amounted to a drop of just 1.3%.
"It is perhaps too early to tell," VanAmburg agreed when asked to speculate on the future of Microsoft's satisfaction score. "If Microsoft's ACSI benchmark flattens next year or drops another point or two, then it is probably safe to say that Windows 8 will be the prime culprit behind a significant downturn in customer satisfaction, even if the ultimate verdict is that it is not perceived by customers to be as 'bad' as Vista."
ACSI's "Other" category for software, which includes products made by major vendors such as Adobe, Intuit and Symantec, also dropped one point to 76 but maintained its long-time lead over Microsoft. Satisfaction for Other software topped out at 79 in 2011, but like Microsoft, has fallen since then.
VanAmburg saw the multi-year decline of satisfaction in software overall as a troubling sign for the PC industry.
"One of the issues with PC software appears to be that there is less of it out there now," VanAmburg said today. "While productivity software remains in demand -- Office, TurboTax, Acrobat -- with so many households that own PCs relying more and more on their tablets, smartphones and gaming systems for entertainment and recreation, the range of PC software may be shrinking, not a welcome sign for diehards [who are] still very loyal to the traditional PC."
VanAmburg also noted that, to some degree, changes in Microsoft's satisfaction rating was cyclical. "The age of Windows 7 probably had a lot to do with [Microsoft's decline in 2012 and 2013]," he said. "Consumers do want change if it makes the operating system better, easier to use, and so on, but after a while a bit of stagnation sets in and change is expected. Microsoft's challenge is that this time around the change so far hasn't been perceived as better."
The ACSI results were the latest signal that Microsoft faces tough slogging as it tries to convince customers -- at this point, primarily consumers -- that Windows 8 has value.
PC shipments have contracted for four straight quarters, most recently by a historic 14% in the first quarter of 2013, and some analysts have blamed Windows 8 for contributing to that decline. And customers have been vocal about slamming Windows 8's radical move to touch and a touch-first interface, dubbed "Modern," née "Metro."
Microsoft has announced an update, Windows 8.1, that it hopes will address those criticisms by adding new features and functionality, and reportedly altering some of the most dramatic user interface changes, such as the disappearance of the iconic Start button.
Windows 8.1 will be a free update to current users of Windows 8, and will release later this year. A public preview will ship June 26, the first day of Microsoft's BUILD developers conference.
The ACSI survey scores can be found on the organization's website. The results were based on polls of nearly 9,600 Americans between Jan. 21 and March 17, or between three and five months after Windows 8's launch.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.