Windows 7 Sales: Mindblowing, or Misleading?

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft's CEO says Windows 7 is selling twice as fast as any of its predecessors. However, he was careful not to sound too arrogant, noting that even the tiniest fraction of market share lost to rivals is important to the Redmond-based software firm.

Steve Ballmer last week spoke at Microsoft's annual meeting in Washington state, broadcast live on the Internet. He said Windows 7 had already sold twice as many units as any previous Microsoft operating system (OS) in the same period, calling the sales a "fantastic start". (Source:

Ballmer didn't give sales numbers or revenue details. Earlier figures showed Windows 7 sales were up 234% over Vista's opening performance. However, revenue was only up 82%, which reveals that many shipments were due to heavy discounts.

A Note of Caution Over Figures

It's worth remembering that the "sales" figures may include copies sent out as part of a special offer giving free upgrades to people who bought Vista computers during the summer. (The idea was to cut the number of people who put off buying a new computer knowing that a new system was on the way.) While those are of course legitimate sales – the vast majority of buyers will have bought the machines while being fully aware they would wind up with Windows 7 – they may slightly exaggerate the rate at which the system is selling.

Another point to note is that Vista's initial sales were disappointing, largely due to negative reviews related to compatibility concerns. A better comparison may be this: Windows 7 appears to be selling twice as quickly as Vista's more successful predecessor, Windows XP.

If you also bear in mind that there are far more computers in use now than when XP was released in 2001, it's fair to conclude that Windows 7's sales figures are not the spectacular success they might appear at first glance. However, when you take into account the current economy and the bad taste left by Vista, it would certainly be unfair to label the sales a flop.

Ballmer: Apple's Gains Matter

Ballmer also noted that 96% of PCs run some form of Windows (that's a tad higher than most figures suggest, but Microsoft's share is certainly above 90%), and claimed Windows is used in 83% of high-end machines, a market sector seen as Apple's strong point. He noted that recent gains in market share for Apple had been relatively small, but said Microsoft was not complacent and that "every tenths of a percent matters." (Source:

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