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Windows 8: 100 million licenses sold, but how many in use?

Shipped and used are two very different scenarios.

Windows 8 has passed the 100 million mark. That's the word from Tami Reller, the CFO of the Windows division at Microsoft. In a Q&A conducted by another Microsoft employee and posted to the Windows blog (that's some hard hittin' journalism, there), Reller discussed the facts and figures of Windows 8 at the six-month mark.

Windows 8 has not passed 100 million licenses sold on PCs and tablets, and there are more than 2,400 Windows 8 and RT certified devices on the market. More than 250 million apps have been downloaded from Windows Store and SkyDrive stands at 250 million users, with Outlook at 400 million accounts, thanks in part to Hotmail being shut down and everyone migrated over.

First, it's important to understand the semantics here. The minute that a PC rolls off the manufacturing line with Windows 8 on it, it is counted as a "license sold." So that means all the PCs sitting on the shelves of HP's warehouse, Best Buy's warehouse and NewEgg's warehouse are part of that count. If you buy a PC and downgrade it to Windows 7, the Windows 8 license is still good and counted as a license sold. That's why the Windows 7 and 8 market shares are about equal in their growth rates.

Windows 8 is indeed making inroads, as the latest Steam analytics show it's up to 11% market share among consumers, while XP is down to a measly 8%. Again, the caveat here is that Steam is aimed at the U.S. gaming market, so it only counts home users, not business.

It's the Net Applications numbers that stink, and Net Applications covers both enterprise and consumers the world over. Windows 8 has a paltry 3.82% market share, while XP hangs strong at 38%, according to Net Apps.

What to make of this? Businesses are rejecting Windows 8 in a big way, and that will only get worse as contracts come up. It likely won't mean a wholesale defection to Mac OS. Instead, it will mean more Windows 7 licenses sold, and some tablets. When a firm with 10,000 PCs under contract with Microsoft is ready to renew, they may decide some of those PCs don't need to be PCs; their employees are better off with tablets. Hello, Apple.

Another survey found that just 2% of IT pros doing a migration are choosing Windows 8; the vast majority, 69%, was picking Windows 7. That jives closer with the stats from Steam and Net Applications.

What I think will end up happening, and it's an easy prediction because it's happened before, is that Windows 8 will make its way into the public via the home user. As they get more comfortable with it and go through the learning curve at home, there will be greater willingness to use it at work.

This is how we got so many non-BlackBerry smartphones in the enterprise. People cut their teeth early on the iPhone and Android for personal use before bringing those devices to work. With the wise decision to return the Start button and booting to Desktop, Windows 8.1 will be a little more user friendly.

But the process will be slow and undoubtedly painful. The Windows Store is woefully empty and I recently documented for another publication that Microsoft has left its ad-driven developers high and dry without ads.

And those 100 million Windows 8 licenses? Consider most of them gone. The bulk, especially business PCs, were downgraded to Windows 7, and the end user is not going to upgrade to Windows 8, if ever. Look at all the Vista downgrades to XP over the years. Whatever became of them? They disappeared, never to be seen or used.

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