HP Windows 7 Campaign Sidesteps Windows 8.1 - InformationWeek

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1/22/2014
09:06 AM
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,
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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?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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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.
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.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/22/2014 | 10:12:28 AM
No surprise
I'm not sure why anyone is surprised at this. The way to succeed in business is to give the people what they want -- and they don't want Win 8 on PCs. They do want a proven stable and familiar OS that has some legs in terms of support. That's Win 7. HP extending the strategy it's employed with business customers is smart.
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