Anticipation of Windows 8 devices coming out this fall has predictably led to sluggish sales of PCs in the past quarter as customers wait to decide whether they want in on the new operating system, according to an IDC report.
Until they get more information -- and that could mean actually seeing Windows 8 devices -- a significant number of these potential buyers will put off buying, says IDC analyst Jay Chou. "The announcement of a Windows 8 launch date, as well as broader communication of new features in the OS, are key steps that would help to address uncertainty about new product availability and help consumers and channels plan their purchases," he says.
TEST YOURSELF: The Windows 8 quiz
Those plans may be solidified soon, given that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says that the new operating system and the Surface tablets that support it will be available in October. Also, the company says the release to manufacturing version of Windows 8 will be available next month, giving decision makers the chance to play with the operating system in its near-final form.
Even so, there are other strong reasons U.S. PC sales dipped in the second quarter of this year and are likely to remain slow in the current quarter, IDC says. These include a saturated market for notebooks, a slowdown in ordering as vendors try to reduce their inventories, and longer refresh cycles among commercial customers. On top of that is the general sluggish economy and low consumer confidence.
"We don't expect PCs using Windows 8 to boost growth significantly until the fourth quarter, which leads to a conservative outlook for the third quarter," says David Daoud, research director for personal computing at IDC.
While overall PC sales dipped 0.1% worldwide compared to the second quarter last year, some individual vendors made significant gains. Lenovo had a 25% increase in sales, bumping it up to No. 2 from No. 3 in sales, IDC says. HP retained its No. 1 spot, but its share of the market dropped from 17.6% to 15.5%. Asus sales jumped 39.8% but it remained in fifth place.
Windows 8 includes a new feature called File History that was explained in detail this week in the Building Windows 8 blog.
The service backs up files that are in libraries, contacts, favorites and on the desktop. It scans every hour by default and records changes to a separate drive where users can recover versions from specific points in time. So if file are damaged or lost or if earlier versions are needed, they can be restored via File History.
"With File History, the search starts right in Windows Explorer," the blog says. "You can browse to a specific location and click or tap on the History button in the explorer ribbon in order to see all versions of the selected library, folder or an individual file."
Finding the file and version to be restored can be done browsing or searching using keywords, file names and date ranges. Users can select the version they want based on previews and can restore them with a mouse click or by tapping on the touchscreen.
File History replaces Backup and Restore functionality in Windows 7, which were used by less than 5% of consumers, the blog says. By making File History easier to use than its predecessors, Microsoft hopes more people will use it.
Buying those Windows 8 Surface tablets might be a bit easier next year when Microsoft will have more than double the current number of Microsoft Stores in place across the U.S.
CEO Steve Ballmer said in an interview this week that the company will sell Surface devices only online or at the stores, with no special arrangements for its partners to by them. So if a VAR or integrator wants to package Surface PCs as part of a contract, they'll have to drop by a store or order online just like everybody else at the same price.
The two models of the sleek Surface devices are due out in October, and perhaps having fewer stores will make for longer lines outside each the day they actually go on sale.
Microsoft says it will have 44 Microsoft Stores in place by this time next year. Currently 20 stores are open and eight more are "coming soon," according to the company's store locator site. No word on where the other 16 will be, although there is one report that say Toronto will be among them and the first outside the U.S.
Rumor: lower license fees for OEMs
A new rumor undercuts an earlier rumor that Microsoft will charge hardware makers $100 per Windows 8 license for the devices they make. Now DigiTimes is reporting the number has dropped to $80-$100 for the Windows 8 Pro x86 version and $60-$80 for the ARM-based Windows RT version that doesn't support legacy applications.
If true, the lower license fees mean potentially bigger margins for the manufacturers and greater retail price flexibility.
DigiTimes attributes the numbers to suppliers of notebook components in Taiwan.
Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.
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