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Microsoft clarifies Ballmer's claims of massive Windows 8 adoption

May 24, 2012 02:36 PM ET

According to Todd Bishop of GeekWire , who obtained an excerpt of Ballmer's speech this week, his remarks echoed Dworkin's in the boasting of development opportunities.

"With something like 400 million to 500 million users expected in the next year, the best economic activity for people building machines, and the best economic opportunity for people writing applications will be around Windows," Baller said, by Bishop's version.

Ballmer said nothing about Windows 8.

But the focus on numbers in the follow-up media reports -- did Ballmer really think Microsoft could double the sales tempo of Windows 7? -- missed the point entirely, said a pair of research analysts with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based firm that tracks only Microsoft.

"What will matter is how fast actual adoption of Windows 8 is, not how fast it sells on new devices, or what the run rate for PCs is," said Michael Cherry of Directions in an email reply to questions. "If a new laptop is sold with Windows 8 and then downgraded to Windows 7, it has no value to a Metro-style application developer."

Most enterprises have top-to-bottom "downgrade" rights, which let them replace a newer version of Windows with an older edition without paying for two copies. Companies typically exercise those rights because as they buy new PCs -- with, say, Windows 8 pre-installed -- they would rather run Windows 7 to standardize their desktop inventory.

Businesses and some consumers also downgrade a new machine because they haven't completed compatibility testing on the new OS, or are just not ready to switch from the known to the unknown.

Cherry's point -- that PCs bought with Windows 8 but subsequently downgraded to Windows 7 skew the "have" numbers in the former's favor -- was picked up by Rob Helm, also of Directions.

"What partners want to know is, how many computers will be running Windows 8 at the end of 2013?" Helm asked [emphasis in original]. "The answer is: Fewer than 500 million, not counting pirates. How many fewer is what's going to matter to the partners."

Cherry and Helm distinguished between a Windows 8 license and a copy of Windows 8 actually being used, intimating that the latter could be much smaller than the former.

Ballmer and Dworkin, on the other hand, crowed about the number of PCs sold that could -- emphasis on "could" -- turn into Windows 8 PCs after an upgrade. They did that in an attempt to woo developers to Metro, Cherry said.

"One reason I think that Microsoft is being aggressive in citing numbers is to encourage developers to write Metro-style applications," said Cherry. "You will see references to large numbers of Windows users, implying that the large number is the market for developers of Metro-style apps and the market for apps in the Windows Store."

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