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Is Windows 8 to blame for PC sales slump?

Posted on 12 Apr 2013 at 08:01

PC sales continue to decline after the launch of Windows 8. This surely means it's underperformed - but has it?

The famous bald dome glistened under the stage lights as, dressed casually in an open-necked shirt and a red jumper, Steve Ballmer played the proud dad.

He declared the release "a rising tide that has helped lift all boats", and he wasn’t exaggerating: sales of PCs were up 50% on Black Friday, helping to make it "the best-selling OS in history," installed on 4% of computers in less than three weeks. Ballmer can come across as smug, but on this occasion he had good reason.

Alas, the reason was Windows 7 and the occasion CES 2010, occurring only months after critics had showered positive reviews on the new arrival.

After enduring several years of Vista, consumers were every bit as enthusiastic as Microsoft’s ebullient boss. That Christmas, a new OS represented both an escape and a leap forward – and often a new PC to celebrate.

Three years later, there was no Microsoft keynote at CES 2013, and it’s hard to know what Ballmer would have said if there had been.

In Windows 8’s first month, laptop sales were down 24% year on year and desktop sales were down 9%.

Party line

Remember the Windows 7 launch party? We've tried to forget it, but it’s etched on the backs of our eyelids.

One of the most awful, tick-all-the-ethnic-boxes promotional videos in YouTube history was merely the warm-up to something even more horrific: hosting your own quasi-sales event with the help of a Windows 7 "party pack" containing posters, playing cards, jigsaws and other tat.

Global PC sales for the final quarter of 2012 were down 4.9% according to Gartner and 6.4% according to IDC. Whichever analyst you asked, the conclusion was unmistakable: Windows 8 had failed to excite consumers.

That trend has continued. The latest PC figures from IDC show sales are down 14% in the first three months this year - the biggest decline since such records started being kept in 1994. The analyst firm said the sales lull was worse than usual because of confusion around Windows 8 devices.

"People think they have to have touch, and they go look at the price points for these touch machines, and they are above where they want to be and they say, 'I guess I'll wait'," says Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC.

"Users are finding Windows 8 to offer a compromised experience that doesn't excel either as a new mobile interface or in a classic desktop interface," he adds. "As a result, many users find a decline in the traditional PC experience without gaining much from new features like touch. The result is that many consumers are worried about upgrading to Windows 8, to say nothing of business users who are still just getting into Windows 7."

But is that the whole story? It’s surely a stretch to lay the blame for the decline of an industry on a single piece of software, even one as pervasive as Windows, and it feels like an overly simplistic explanation. Dig beneath the surface and there’s a lot more to it.

The OS factor

A new Windows release is the catalyst for an end-of-year rise in PC sales. It’s a line that’s trotted out by both the industry and the media every few years, but, beyond the expected bump for Christmas, it doesn’t ring true.

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User comments

Seems pretty accurate

That was a pretty fair and balanced article.

I think the trend towards mobile devices is an indication that the "average" consumer simply doesn't really need a PC. The average consumer is non-creative and prefers to "play" and surf. Why buy a sledge hammer to hit a nail? That is fair enough.

I even advised a friend of mine to buy an Android tablet instead of a Windows RT tablet, but she bought the latter LOL. She paid twice as much, at least, and due to the lack of apps, it does a lot less, overall.

I am at a loss why people sit there chatting/tweeting for hours on a tablet or a phone. That is one painful experience and who can't type 3-5 times faster on a "proper" full-sized keyboard? I think most consumers will phase out the laptop/desktop for tablets, but the majority of businesses will continue to NEED PCs.

By cooloox on 12 Apr 2013

I second that, good analysis. I am not a business user, but neither am I a couch surfing consumer. I have been looking for a new Windows 8 laptop since launch and my observation is that manufacturers don't seem to know who they're selling to. I've lost count of the number of laptop reviews on this site with a sub-standard screen with a compromised resolution (1366x768). Now if I am going to stare at screen all day, I need something with enough brightness & colour fidelity to be a pleasure to use. And I'd pay for it. But it is not even available as an option on most laptops. And the premium laptops with good screens are so premium you'd be better off buying a MacBook Pro. I've pretty much given up looking until the manufacturers get their act together and start making decent devices without non-sensical design compromises. Building to a budget is fine, but they're not thinking about end-user needs and simply churning out combinations of components in the hope that something gains traction in the market.

By c6ten on 12 Apr 2013

Race to the bottom

I think Windows 8 is more of a side-show and a scapegoat for natural market conditions.

1) We are in an economic downturn, to say the least, so people aren't buying luxury goods as much
2) Windows 7 requires fewer resources than Windows Vista and Windows 8 requires fewer resources than Windows 7.
3) People are moving to ultra mobile devices, like tablets, which means they have much less power at their disposal, which means the OS has to be fitter and use less power.
4) Most consumers replace their old PC when it stops working or it becomes too slow.

5) As the OS is getting more and more efficient, there is less and less need to replace PCs. Gone are the days of the 18 month upgrade cycle, most people I know are replacing their machines on a 10 year plus cycle, assuming the device lasts that long.

Points 4 and 5 are the key here. If the OS is getting lighter and lighter, there is less and less need to replace the old PC, because it is still fast enough for day to day use.

Only gamers and high-end users of graphics and video editing packages, for example, really need to stay anywhere near the cutting edge, in terms of performance, and even here, the processor speed increases aren't that significant any more.

It is nice to have new kit to play with, but when most families are looking at how they will cover the rising cost of living, replacing a fully functioning PC is a very low priority.

A sister-in-law had a problem with a loud PC that wasn't running stable. She thought she would need to replace it (2006 quad core running Windows 7). Money was tight and it was a real concern, what she would do. She was very relieved, when I said I could fix it for 30€ (new PSU and processor fan). Now they are looking at a few more years of service, before they have to worry about replacing it.

Some are looking at their PC or laptop and seeing that it doesn't need replacing, so they are looking at getting a tablet as an adjunct.

By big_D on 12 Apr 2013

No need to replace my PC

I agree with the sentiments here. I do a lot of Photoshop work on my PC, but I haven't need to change it in 4 years. I've added new memory, a new power supply, but apart from that I can't see any reason to change it for a new one.

By DJ2003 on 12 Apr 2013

'Lotus' notes traveler

Point of note, IBM notes traveler (formerly Lotus notes traveler) is available for Windows 8 PRO (and Windows mobile 6, Phones 7 & 8, as well as Windows RT).

By rozman on 12 Apr 2013

There are few PC's anyone aspires to own.

Another aspect of the down-turn is desirability. A PC is not that desirable to most people, it's just something to 'do stuff on'. Tablets do a lot of what most people want (internet, email, media) and do it well enough for them to live with any compromises, and they are trendy. People aspire to own the latest tablet because it's 'cool' and something they can show to people. PC's are just seen as a necessity.

I built a new PC recently but only because I needed more RAM than my old PC supported for VMware. Like many however it was fast enough for everything, even gaming. If gaming was struggling I could just replace the graphics card. The rest of the PC (built in 2009) was more than quick enough.

I've seen lots of instances of non-techies (family and friends) willing to spend money on tablets, but either doing without a PC altogether or if they need a PC the cheapest one will do.

Non-techies just want something that's simple, and techies make do and swap parts as they need to. The only people buying new PC's are those with who can earn money from doing things faster or those with plenty of disposable income.

By shaunpugh on 12 Apr 2013

It's (still) The Economy, stupid.

As I've previously opined, and as Mr Big_D so eloquently points-out: we simply don't NEED new PCs.
Relatively few individuals or businesses are replacing existing kit 'til it's totally knackered.

Big_D's point that Tablets are an 'adjunct' to PCs is also well-made.
Over the past few days I've spent time using a PC (work & home) 2 different Tablets (Nexus 7 & Surface) and my Smartphone. Some tasks have been spread across two or more devices: I started with the 'phone, then switched to a Tablet for more screen area \ easier use. Other tasks I started on the Surface, and switched to the PC for final editing on my multi-screen 'Office' setup.

The PC isn't dead, or even particularly 'sick', and low sales simply aren't Windows 8's fault, whatever the Analysts might say.

In tough times, people keep their cash and only spend on necessities or occasional 'treats'.
A new 'phone or Tablet is relatively ('psychologically' anyway!) cheap and special enough to splash-out on, but a new PC is too 'mundane'.
The Car market is the same - flat until you get to the more indulgent motors...

By wittgenfrog on 12 Apr 2013

Manufacturers/retailers are also to blame

Let me start off by saying - "I like Windows 8". It is installed on both of my PCs which are non touch screen.

I recently went to a large PC retailer (you know the one - C....s) looking for a companion Windows 8 tablet for my commute and was appalled.

There were no windows 8 or RT tablets sold. The laptops were all mundane at best with no distinction between them. Some were showing anti-virus warnings, 1 was even a preview build of W8 and there was only 1 touchscreen laptop poorly marked and tucked away.

It is no wonder the iPads sell so well, when the display was a simple 2 ipads, 2 ipad minis in a brightly lit segregated area.

How am I supposed to know whether I want a win 8 tablet, win RT tablet or a convertible laptop (if any) if I can't pick them up and play with these mobile devices (and only buy them on the internet).

I still don't know and I'm currently waiting for the Surface Pro to come to UK.

By James99001 on 12 Apr 2013


I've been a Windows user / upgrader since Windows 3.1 and the only regret I've had was Vista. The upgrade to Windows 7 ironed out all of the niggles, but at the same time I was asking myself, what has this given me that I didn't have in XP? (Also, why doesn't this look anywhere near as pretty as my mate's Apple, and in fact by comparison looks clunky!).

The tablet has finally changed my whole view of PC's. This static, bulky, somewhat noisy, space consuming, energy inefficient thing (the PC)takes way too long to boot and getting my email in the overblown Outlook is quite frankly a 'pita' for those who 'rtfm'(s).

There are still things that I can only do on a PC, and I'm not a great fan of putting my files up in the cloud. As time goes on though the things I can't do in a web-app become fewer, and what's available as a service is in a lot of cases quite frankly amazing.

The fact that Windows XP users can upgrade to Windows 8 for the same price as I can, having gone through the Vista, then Windows 7 route, for something that is basically a modified Windows 7 product, has made me think enough is enough.

My next purchase and the machine that I will mainly use will be a decent sized tablet, and that tablet will run Android. I will still use my music dedicated XP box that holds a fancy sound card for which there are no drivers beyond XP, and my main Windows 7 PC for the sound, photo, video processing that I do, but beyond that it is tablet all the way.

RIP PC. Sorry Microsoft, no more upgrades for me.

By Binder on 12 Apr 2013


I'm afraid, PC Pro et al, need to write headlines that pull in the reader and spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about Windows 8 seems to be the in thing.

By Grunthos on 12 Apr 2013

Never mind about windows 8

... why is Bayon back writing for PC PRO ? I thought he had left.

By deaglecat on 12 Apr 2013


Tablets seem a natural progression from mobile phones to mobile computers. I don't need my computer mobile and the current tablet design is a bit clumsy. Can't fit in pocket, can't hold without thumb on screen, can't operate without making fingermarks, often needs recharging and a bit underpowered. I think it needs some improved ergonomics if it's going to last.

By pictonic on 14 Apr 2013

An OS too far?

Bought a Dell Inspiron 15r for my wife as she liked mine and neded a new laptop as she's an educational assessor, unfortunatly it came with Win8. Madam 'experienced Win8' for 6 weeks and demnded I install Win7Pro. I won't bore you with my trials & tribulations, but it's 'challenging' to uninstall 8 but the deed has been done. Everyone I spoke to (at DELL) had reverted to Win7.

By beecee on 19 Apr 2013

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