Microsoft Clarifies Ballmer's Claims of Massive Windows 8 Adoption

Gregg Keizer May 25, 2012
Microsoft Clarifies Ballmer's Claims of Massive Windows 8 Adoption
Analysts point out how Microsoft inflates the pool of Windows 8-capable PCs

Reports earlier this week that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer predicted unprecedented sales of Windows 8 were wrong on multiple counts, Microsoft and independent analysts agreed.

But while Microsoft said Ballmer was misquoted or misunderstood, the analysts argued that even if the CEO's number of 500 million had been accurate, it meant little about the upgrade's success.

The kerfuffle started when the Agence France-Presse (AFP) wire service, reporting from a South Korean technology event, said Ballmer claimed up to 500 million users would "have" Windows 8 "next year." A slew of blogs and news websites piled on, most of them questioning Ballmer's number, or even his sanity.

It wasn't hard to see why: Windows 7, which Microsoft has repeatedly said has been the fastest-selling operating system in its 37-year history, sold roughly 525 million licenses between its 2009 launch and the end of 2011. During the 12 months of last year, Microsoft claimed it sold some 225 Windows 7 licenses.

Since most interpreted the AFP's "next year" as meaning through the end of 2013 -- and because that would give Microsoft just 14-15 months for Windows 8 to make the half-billion milestone -- a lot of people were skeptical.

Very skeptical.

All for naught, as it turned out: Late Tuesday Microsoft said the AFP piece was the result of crossed wires.

"The numbers Steve Ballmer gave at the Seoul event are a restatement of what we said at the Windows 8 Store event in December, when we were talking about existing Windows users and analyst projections of PC sales for 2012 that could be upgraded to Windows 8 when the time comes," said a Microsoft spokeswoman in a email reply Tuesday night to a request for comment and clarification.

In effect, said Microsoft, AFP miscast a Ballmer line as a Windows 8 sales projection when in reality it was nothing of the kind.

The December 2011 event the company spokeswoman referred to was where Microsoft promised to ship the Windows 8 beta in two months and beat the marketing drum for Windows Store, the e-market that will be the only distribution source for Metro-style apps.

In a blog published that same day, Ted Dworkin, director of the Windows Store development team, said, "We've just passed the 500 million licenses sold mark for Windows 7, which represents half a billion PCs that could be upgraded to Windows 8 on the day it ships. That represents the single biggest platform opportunity available to developers."

Dworkin linked the number of in-play Windows 7 licenses -- each of which could potentially migrate to Windows 8 -- to the prospects that Metro app developers faced. The more Windows 7 machines that could become Windows 8 systems, the happier everyone should be.

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.