Software // Operating Systems
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1/22/2014
09:06 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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HP Windows 7 Campaign Sidesteps Windows 8.1

HP's Windows 7 push makes marketing sense but reflects a lack of confidence in Windows 8.1 PCs.

8 Reasons To Hate Windows 8.1
8 Reasons to Hate Windows 8.1
(Click image for larger view.)

After weathering a rough year with Windows 8 as the face of its PC products, Hewlett Packard launched a new promotion over the weekend that puts Windows 7 PCs front and center.

With a banner declaring Windows 7 PCs are "back by popular demand," the company's website is currently offering up to $150 off certain models preinstalled with the four-year-old OS.

To an extent, HP's promotion is simply a canny marketing move timed to piggyback on Windows XP's looming end-of-support deadline, now less than three months away. But it also reinforces that manufacturers aren't confident of the demand for certain Windows 8.1 products.

By pushing Windows 7, HP is extending the strategy it's employed with business customers. For the many enterprises that migrated in 2013 off of Windows XP, Windows 7 presented a smoother and more cost-effective transition. Even though Windows 8 has dominated HP's consumer lineup for the last year, Windows 7 has remained a core option for commercial customers.

[Which tablets ruled last year? Read 10 Best Tablets Of 2013.]

According to Net Applications, almost 30% of desktop traffic was still coming from Windows XP machines at the end of 2013. A share that high means businesses aren't the only holdouts. As tablets and smartphones have grown more capable and PC upgrades more incremental, many consumers have delayed PC purchases and OS upgrades.

Now forced to upgrade or lose most support from Microsoft, owners of XP systems represent a market opportunity, and many of them will find Windows 7 more familiar and welcoming than Windows 8. It makes sense for HP, which never stopped selling Windows 7 PCs as it ramped up Windows 8 inventory, to shift its marketing to target different market segments. Right now, it's reasonable to infer there are Windows XP users who want Windows 7 machines. That's not particularly distressing for Windows 8.1; it's just the ebb and flow of technology and marketing.

More troubling for Microsoft is this: Windows 8.1 tablets have posted only incremental progress, and Net Applications found that Windows 7 gained more desktop users last month than Windows 8.1 did. The subtext is that many users prefer that their PCs behave like PCs and that their tablets behave like tablets. Windows 8.1 tries to deliver both experiences in a single package regardless of device, and the market simply hasn't been interested.

The Windows 7 promotional banner on HP's online store
The Windows 7 promotional banner on HP's online store

By trumpeting that Windows 7 is "back by popular demand," HP is speaking not only to XP clingers, but also this second group: people who want a PC that acts like a PC. There's a market for Microsoft's flavor of convergence but so far, it's been a niche market, not enough to support the device strategy of a large company like HP. Whereas XP's retirement represents a short-term marketing opportunity for Windows 7, long-time desktop users' dearth of enthusiasm for Windows 8.1 is a farther-reaching trend.

HP has felt this trend acutely; 2013 was rough for the entire PC market, but according to the research firm IDC, HP absorbed the biggest drubbing among major players. Lenovo shipped more units in 2013 than in 2012, and Dell managed to gain share by outperforming the market. HP, in contrast, suffered a worldwide shipment drop that was slightly worse than the industry's average. In the US, it shipped 9.4% fewer units, much worse than the market's 3.6% aggregate slide.

Windows 8.1 isn't solely responsible for the PC industry's woes. But with both Android and Chrome OS invading HP's laptop and all-in-one desktop lineup, it's become hard to deny that Windows 8 and 8.1 have underperformed, and that the company is hedging its bets accordingly. Execs from various OEMs have criticized Windows 8 over the last year, but HP CEO Meg Whitman was particularly pointed in October, the same month Windows 8.1 was released, when she characterized Microsoft as a rival.

None of this means HP is dumping Windows 8.1. On the contrary, even with the ongoing promotion, HP is offering only a handful of Windows 7 options. Windows 8.1 encompasses HP's largest range of products, by a healthy margin. At some point in the future, one of these Windows 8.1 devices will surely supplant Windows 7 in HP's marketing limelight.

But once upon a time, Windows could constitute the foundation of a manufacturer's entire device strategy. With Windows 8.1, that no longer seems to be the case. When Windows Vista tanked, some OEMs began hyping PCs that ran the previous version, Windows XP. Windows 8.1 has often been compared to Vista, and HP's new campaign only reinforces the similarity.

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. Michael graduated from Stanford in 2005 and previously worked in talent representation, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher.

Incidents of mobile malware are way up, researchers say, and 78% of respondents worry about lost or stolen devices. But while many teams are taking mobile security more seriously, 42% still skip scanning completely, and just 39% have MDM systems in place. Find out more in the State Of Mobile Security report. (Free registration required.)

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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
6/10/2014 | 7:11:12 PM
Windows 7 at a premium
Looking at prices, it almost seems Win7 laptops are being sold at a premium, or at least no less money than Win8 ones. Worth paying more to miss out on the aggravation?
AsokS489
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AsokS489,
User Rank: Strategist
1/25/2014 | 1:01:48 AM
Re: Windows 7 rides again
"My Windows 8.1 laptop and desktop look like and work like XP or Windows 7, without any 3rd party add-on software to emulate the start feature"

No they don't. You just made that up.
concrete
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concrete,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/23/2014 | 5:38:21 AM
Re: No surprise
People just hate the live tile interface. The learning curve is too great for many (personally ive side stepped it alltogether and have my most used apps pinned to the start bar). Win 7 is good theres no doubt but the performance increases in win 8 make it an obvious choice.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2014 | 1:19:55 AM
Re: Vista memories
I think this is a wise move on HP's part. 8.1 Tablets are great, but as others have said, it's not what they want on a PC. Microsoft may not completely realize it yet, but they have a rebellion on their hands, and this time there are alternatives available for Windows. If Microsoft wants to really push 8.1, one way would be to make the cheapest Surface they can, and then sell it at a loss. Then, as users scarf 'em up, they might well fall in love with 8.1, and move their PC buys to that OS. And again, I don't think it's fair to compare 8.1 to Vista, because 8.1 is strong and stable, and Vista never was.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2014 | 4:50:24 PM
Re: Win 7 wasn't broke so why fix it?
"...that's just not what they want on laptops and desktops..."

According to an article on another site, "...most consumer systems come equipped with the newest version, Windows 8.1..."

While PC sales are down from previous years, there are still millions of them being sold.  If most come with Windows 8.1, are folks reformatting their devices and loading them with something else?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/22/2014 | 4:44:47 PM
Re: Windows 7 rides again
Sort of-- but there's still no true Start menu in 8.1, just the list view you get by right clicking the Start button. Some Windows apps can add Start menu functionality, but the absense of a native version seems to be a sticking point with a light of people.


I agree, though, that once you've configured Windows 8.1 to your liking (boot-to-desktop, hot corners, etc), it can provide a better experience than Windows 7. But as I've written a few times lately, I think most of Windows 8.1's primary differentiators appeal mostly to niche groups. Those outside of these niches don't seem to find the increases in security and stability to be worth the customization and familiarization demands.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2014 | 4:34:27 PM
HP Facts...
A story on another site posted a few numbers about HP's newfound Windows 7 strategy.  Per that story, HP actually offers fewer models loaded with Windows 7 now than a year ago.  Further, the story claims that HP has consistently offered these models -- mostly to corporate customers who want Windows 7.

I don't recall the exact numbers but I want to say last year HP offered something like ~10 models loaded with Windows 7 and ~50 loaded with Windows 8.  They currently offer ~50+ (a few more) models loaded with Windows 8 and a few less than 10 loaded with Windows 7.

If this is a major campaign, it seems odd that they would offer fewer models than last year.  Perhaps their product team didn't get the marketing memo?  

Perhaps we owe it to ourselves to investigate some facts before forming opinions as to what HP is doing.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/22/2014 | 3:28:32 PM
Win 7 wasn't broke so why fix it?
The phrase "Back by popular demand" is such a kick in the pants to Windows 8. Windows 8 isn't as complicated as it appears to be and you can boot directly into desktop mode in Windows 8.1, which looks and feels just like Windows 7. But it doesn't matter. People see the New Windows commercials with the tiles and touchscreens and that's just not what they want on laptops and desktops. They want Windows 7.
RoleG356
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RoleG356,
User Rank: Strategist
1/22/2014 | 3:15:48 PM
Re: Windows 7 rides again
I believe you made a mistake.  My Windows 8.1 laptop and desktop look like and work like XP or Windows 7, without any 3rd party add-on software to emulate the start feature.  I almost never see the "Modern Tiles", and one keystroke swaps back to the desktop.  8.1 is faster, less error prone, and is not difficult to adapt to;  the learning curve you fear is just not there for everyday tasks.
sscheiber
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sscheiber,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/22/2014 | 2:01:53 PM
Windows 7 rides again
I can't say that I'm surprised by HP's move to offer Windows 7 PCs.  A few weeks ago, I made the same decision myself, scarfing up one of the few Windows 7 PCs that were available at that time.  Although I hadn't planned to replace my existing PC so soon, I seized the opportunity to get a new machine before the market forced me to migrate to Windows 8.x.  As the author of this piece suggests, I wanted my PC to look like a PC.  I'm not a Luddite.  But I haven't the time or patience to endure a learning curve to adopt a version of Windows that -- to me -- has little to recommend it.

 

I hope that HP continues to offer that option for its customers.  Windows 7 may in fact be 4 years old, but it is a stable platform and a familiar interface.
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