Windows 8 Sells 100 Million Licenses, But Faces Long Road Ahead

Windows 8.

Windows 8 has sold 100 million licenses.

In any other industry, selling 100 million of anything would be cause for breaking out the celebratory bubbly. For Microsoft and Windows, however, 100 million is a far more ambiguous number. According to Net Applications and StatCounter, Windows 8’s market share lags behind that of all other recent Windows versions—including Windows XP, which is more than a decade old and nearing the very end of its support lifecycle.

But Windows 8 has only been on the market for six months: as Harry McCracken pointed out over at Time, early sales ultimately don’t matter much. “If we end up looking back at Windows 8 as a success, it’ll be because it turned out that its radical change helped Windows stay relevant in the post-PC era,” he wrote. “If history judges it a failure, it’ll be because the reinvention didn’t work.”

That reinvention hinges on the updates coming to Windows 8 over the next several quarters. The first, codenamed Windows Blue, should arrive later in 2013. Microsoft is reluctant to share what features Blue will contain, but Windows CFO and CMO Tami Reller did suggest (in a corporate interview posted on the official Blogging Windows blog) that the update “is also an opportunity for us to respond to the customer feedback.”

Based on a highly unscientific survey of online forums, it seems that consumers most want a Start button (a longtime staple of Windows, eliminated in the latest version) and a way to boot directly to the desktop interface, skipping the tile-centric Start screen designed to make Windows 8 more functional on tablets and touch-screens. If Microsoft does implement those two changes, it won’t be so much a leap forward as a tacit acknowledgment that some of Windows 8’s changes may have been too much, too soon. Microsoft’s challenge is to keep the platform moving forward, but in a way that doesn’t alienate all those longtime Windows users.

Windows 8 was designed from day one to compete on a whole galaxy of devices, from bulky desktops all the way down to svelte tablets. A crucial element in that strategy is apps downloaded via the Windows Store. In her corporate interview, Reller neglected to mention the total number of apps in the Store, but she did state that 250 million apps had been downloaded in the storefront’s first six months of release.

That’s a pretty solid figure, but Microsoft needs to convince third-party developers to build still more apps for the Windows Store. It’s also missing titles from some major companies (including Facebook, nudge nudge) that could help it compete on firmer footing against Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Business apps are another crucial factor, given Microsoft’s legacy among companies.

Image: Microsoft