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Microsoft earnings shed no new light on Windows 8 sales

January 28, 2013 06:14 AM ET

"This isn't just inventory sitting out there," Moorhead countered. "That's not what's coming out of my discussions with OEMs or retailers. [Such large inventories] would be a monumental collapse if you think about it. You just can't sit on that much revenue."

Instead, said Moorhead, he put his money on Klein's mention of increased sales of volume license agreements to enterprises, which Microsoft said had climbed by double digits.

"The big boost in revenue is coming from Windows 7, from very large deals that Microsoft does with enterprises," said Moorhead. "That's the only way you can explain [the 11% increase in revenue]."

He discounted Surface RT sales for the revenue boost, pointing to the limited distribution for the tablets during much of the quarter, and a lackluster response by customers.

Microsoft did not disclose sales for the Surface RT last week.

Pumping up volume license sales would be relatively easy for Microsoft, Moorhead noted. Because those deals involve intangible goods, all Microsoft would have to do, he argued, was offer customers better-than-usual terms to get them to sign on the dotted line.

Neither analyst commented on another of Klein's explanations for the Windows revenue increase, Windows 8 upgrades. But those upgrades may have played a bigger part than most realize.

Microsoft sold its Windows 8 Pro upgrade for a record low $40 per copy, and if that price prompted, say, 10 million purchases the company would have collected $400 million in revenue, or 35% of the $1.14 billion difference between the fourth quarter of 2011 and the same period in 2012.

But if O'Donnell is right, and computer makers and retailers have large numbers of unsold PCs, Microsoft will see Windows sales fall this quarter as OEMs scale back orders. "First quarter is going to be tough," O'Donnell said. "The hype around Windows 8 and pre-sales contributed to a good fourth quarter, but this one will be much tougher."

Moorhead agreed.

"PC OEMs, retailers and chip makers have all publicly said that their businesses are in a funk, driven by the lack of demand for Windows-based PCs," said Moorhead. "At best, Windows 8 kept an even bigger slide in PC sales from happening, but the buzz just isn't there. Microsoft has to give consumers a reason to spend their money on Windows 8, or things will get worse."

covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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