Microsoft claims 200M Windows 8 licenses sold, but how many are in use?

Calculations show that between 165M and 184M are being used to access the Web

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According to Net Applications, at the end of November 2011, Windows 7 powered 37.51% of all Windows devices. So ...

37.51% x 1.25 billion = 468.94 million

Another way to generate an estimate of the number of Windows 8 devices is to use Windows 8's user share of all computers. There, Net Applications put the OS's number at 10.58%. (Windows 8's share of all computers is smaller than its share of Windows-only devices because the latter accounts for about 91% of the whole.)

Estimates for the installed base of all in-use personal computers range from 1.6 billion (by Benedict Evans, now an analyst with venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz) to 1.63 billion (Gartner, last fall, in a take on the number likely to be in place by the end of 2013) to 1.74 billion (IDC's Singh).

10.58% x 1.6 billion = 169.28 million

10.58% x 1.63 billion = 172.45 million

10.58% x 1.74 billion = 184.09 million

So, the estimates for Windows 8 active devices ranges from a low of 169.3 million to a high of 184 million -- out of the 200 million licenses Reller claimed -- with the 175.9 million based on the 1.5 billion Windows PCs about in the middle of the range.

By comparison, the same calculations result in a range for OS X -- which last month had a user share of 7.68% of all devices -- between 122.9 million and 133.6 million active, in-use Macs:

7.68% x 1.6 billion = 122.88 million

7.68% x 1.74 billion = 133.63 million

Net Applications is not the only metrics company to publish public statistics that can be used to calculate the number of in-use Windows 8 devices. Ireland's StatCounter tracks "user share," a measurement that uses a different methodology to count page views. Unlike Net Applications' figures, StatCounter measures online activity rather than the number of online individuals.

Using StatCounter's January 2014 user share of 10.31% of all PCs and tablets, the number of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 devices is:

10.31% x 1.6 billion = 164.96 million

10.31% x 1.63 billion = 168.05 million

10.31% x 1.6 billion = 179.39 million

The numbers produced with StatCounter's user share for Windows 8 are slightly less than those generated using Net Applications, but they're in the same ballpark, with a low and high of 165 million to 179.4 million.

All these calculations point in the same direction: Windows 8, which powered just 59 million machines out of 100 licenses sold in May -- for an in-use rate of 59% -- now powers about 176 million devices out of 200 million licenses sold, for an in-use rate of 88%.

But where's the remaining 12%? Where are the missing 16 million to 35 million devices, the difference between 200 million licenses and the active 165 to 184 million machines?

In transit, in inventory, on retailers shelves. And some were likely bought as Windows 8 or 8.1 systems, but then subsequently "downgraded" to Windows 7 Professional by savvy individuals or small businesses, counting as a sale to Microsoft but not showing up in Net Applications' or StatCounter's user or usage share statistics.

In any case, Windows 8, while putting a larger percentage of its licenses to work, continues to lag behind its Windows 7 predecessor on uptake, not surprising what with the apathetic-to-antagonistic customer reaction to the former, the historic slump in PC sales, and Microsoft's inability to spur significant tablet sales with the new OS.

According to Net Applications, Windows 8's user share of 11.66% last month (of only those devices running Windows) was less than half of Windows 7's 24.87% at the same time (the 15th month after launch) in its sales cycle.

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 gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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