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Windows 8 Fails To Lift Holiday PC Sales

PC makers need to build more innovative hardware around Microsoft's new touch-friendly OS, says IDC.

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Worldwide PC sales fell 6.4% in the fourth quarter despite hype generated by the launch of Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system, according to market watcher IDC.

"Although the third quarter was focused on the clearing of Windows 7 inventory, preliminary research indicates the clearance did not significantly boost the uptake of Windows 8 systems in Q4," said Jay Chou, a senior research analyst at IDC.

In the U.S. alone, PC sales were off 4.5% in the fourth quarter and 7% for the full year 2012.

IDC analysts blamed the decline in part on what they said was vendors' failure to properly market Windows 8 and to build innovative new hardware that could take full advantage of the new OS's features.

[ Is Microsoft Office right for touch-based computing? See Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch? ]

"Consumers expected all sorts of cool PCs with tablet- and touch-optimized capabilities," said IDC research director David Daoud. "Instead, they mostly saw traditional PCs that feature a new OS (Windows 8) optimized for touch and tablet with applications and hardware that are not yet able to fully utilize these capabilities."

Chou added that PC vendors' efforts to promote Windows 8 systems focused too much on touch, and not enough on other Windows 8 features, such as improved security and manageability. "Lost in the shuffle to promote a touch-centric PC, vendors have not forcefully stressed other features that promote a more secure, reliable and efficient user experience."

Some PC vendors fared better than others. Lenovo, which focuses mainly on the enterprise market, defied the downturn and saw its fourth quarter PC shipments increase 8.2% year-over-year, to 14.1 million units. ASUS saw shipments increase 5.6%, to 6.5 million units, while market leader HP held steady at about 15 million units.

Others in the top five fared considerably worse. Dell saw its Q4 PC shipments plunge 20.8%, to 9.5 million units, while Acer saw shipments plummet 28.2%, to 7 million units. Dell suffered from "aggressive competition," while Acer was hit by its "dependence on consumer spending," which largely went to non-Windows tablets, IDC said.

A Microsoft exec this week said the company has sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses since launching the touch-friendly operating system last year.

"I would like to announce that we have reached the 60-million license mark with Windows 8," said Tami Reller, CFO of Microsoft's Windows division. Reller, speaking Tuesday at the JP Morgan Tech Forum at CES Las Vegas, said the number puts early Win8 sales on pace with those of Windows 7, which debuted in October of 2009.

It's "roughly in line with where we would have been with Windows 7," said Reller. "So we feel good about what we have been able to accomplish with the ecosystem. Still much more, so much more opportunity ahead, but certainly looking back we're pleased with what we were able to accomplish with the project, and what we were able to accomplish with the ecosystem heading into launch and in the first selling season."

Windows 8 became available to enterprises last summer, and launched to consumers on Oct. 26. Reller said the 60 million includes licenses sold to PC and tablet makers, and upgrade licenses. She did not provide a more specific breakdown of the numbers.

Tech spending is looking up, but IT must focus more on customers and less on internal systems. Also in the all-digital Outlook 2013 issue of InformationWeek: Five painless rules for encryption. (Free registration required.)

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