Windows 8: Some VARs Aren't Selling It, They're Replacing It

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Part of the reason Windows 8 may not be hitting home with business users is that Microsoft spent most of its time marketing the OS to consumers and not to commercial customers through the first six months, according to several channel executives.

Microsoft failed to connect with the commercial market in part because it failed to connect with solution providers regarding Windows 8, said two distribution executives in separate conversations.

"From a commercial perspective, they need to do a better job articulating why enterprises should adopt Windows 8. They've done a great job articulating the consumer experience. Consumer adoption has been very good, but it's forced upon you. You buy a PC, it comes with Windows 8," said one of the distribution executives, who asked not to be named because his firm is a major Microsoft partner.

Compounding Microsoft's Windows 8 woes during the first six months was the fact that scant touch-enabled devices were available at launch, said the other distribution executive. "Applications are really built based on touch. That's where the OS is the most compelling. Unless you're upgrading your displays, there was no reason to upgrade and there weren't a lot of touch devices readily available until recently. That's created an even more lackluster response from the business community," he said.

Despite the problems cited by the distribution executives, Windows 8 is shipping on an increasing number of systems, according to data collected by The NPD Group. That data shows the percentage of PCs shipped through distribution with Windows 8 has increased each month since its release, compared with the percentage of PCs shipped with Windows 7.

According to The NPD Group's Distributor Track, the percentage of PCs shipped running Windows 8 has increased from 14.5 percent in November 2012 (the first full month of Windows 8) to 47.9 percent in March 2013. Meanwhile, NPD's VAR Track, which aggregates sales data from 650 SMB solution providers, finds a similar trend. The percentage of PCs sold with Windows 8 increased from 15.6 percent in November 2012 to 40.7 percent in March 2013.

However, Windows 8 has grown at a slower rate than Windows 7 when it was released three years ago, according to NPD. By January 2010, after it had been shipping for three months, the percentage of PCs sold running Windows 7 had already reached 60.3 percent and climbed to 75.8 percent by April 2010. Of course, Windows 7 was gaining traction at the expense of the much-maligned Vista and older XP versions of Windows.

Some vendors have blamed declining PC sales on Windows 8. For example, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman told CRN in May that the press around Windows 8 "was not perfect" and HP doesn't see a big demand for the operating system among its business customers. Customers are upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7, she said.

One distribution executive told CRN he expects Windows 8 adoption to ramp up more quickly in the first three months after the Windows 8.1 update is released than in the first six months to date.

"I understand there are some tweaks that need to be made, some things that seem strange right now. But also keep in mind, anything Microsoft does will be compared with iOS and the overall Apple experience, which is a more mature experience than Windows 8 is today," he said. "My view is that they get it right and it becomes a smoother experience as they do the next major release of it."

But Microsoft also needs to improve its commercial messaging around integration across different classes of devices, from desktops to phones, the executive said. More enterprises are going mobile and Windows 8 can be a conduit to accelerate that trend, but that message isn't being effectively communicated to the channel, he said. "I'm very much embracing it myself. I understand it and use it. What I'm hoping for is a fully integrated experience, to take advantage of SkyDrive and to adopt Lync as well. Once people understand the full benefits of it, that you can use any device and have a consistent environment, have access from anywhere, I think then the lightbulb will go on," he said.

NEXT: Will The Update Help?

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