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Microsoft's given its first indication of how many devices it expects to ship running Windows 8 next year.
Chief executive Steve Ballmer is reported to have said 500 million "users" would "have" Windows 8 next year - he was speaking at the Seoul Digital Forum, in South Korea.
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There were no more specifics, and there was no clarification on whether Ballmer was referring to units - typical in such discussions - or another metric.
He did continue, however, that Windows 8 would be the "deepest, broadest and most impactful" Windows software ever created by Microsoft.
"It's really, in some senses, a dawning of the rebirth of MS Windows... It's certainly the most important piece of work we've done," the Redmond kingpin told the event.
That's quite some statement, and some numbers.
First the statement. With each new operating system, Microsoft forgets its past and abandons all sense of decency and proportion.
Take Ballmer on Windows Vista and Office 2007 in 2007:
"These are the most amazing versions of Windows and Office ever," said Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft. "The visual effects are spectacular; the navigation is streamlined and intuitive. They make it much easier to protect your PC, yourself and your children online. And they work together to help you accomplish more throughout the day."
So much for Windows XP. That, according to the executive then in charge, was nothing less than a "worldwide phenomenon, a new standard for personal computing and a huge milestone for Microsoft, for the industry and for computer users everywhere."
Phew. How do you top those? With Windows 8. Apparently.
That brings us on to numbers. If Ballmer is talking units for Windows 8 next year, then 500 million is about 40 per cent more than Microsoft expects to ship using the "dated and cheesy" Windows 7 this year. Ballmer said he expects 350 million PCs running Windows 7 to sell this year.
That 350 million is about flat compared to 2011, based on IDC numbers: 352.4 million PCs were shipped last year - a 1.6 per cent increase over 2010 - IDC has said.
With Windows PCs looking flat this year, and let's assume next year given there's very little indication the global economy is going anywhere good with a looming Grexit, then Microsoft's number crunchers are banking on Windows 8 getting a lift from tablets and, particularly, Apple's iPad.
Can Windows 8 tablets deliver?
Hard to say. So far we know very little about the coming slabs. The majority look like being Intel-based x86 machines with a handful, about five models, expected on ARM and likely to be readers. Forty per cent is a huge pair of shoes to fill for feet so young and untested.
Microsoft's certainly not making things easy for itself, by throwing hurdles in front of application partners who've made Windows a success in the past and end users familiar with the PC experience and with existing apps to port.
Gone is the Aero glass-look for apps used since Windows Vista, even if you don't elect to build an app for the Metro UI on a Windows 8 machine.
Customers won't be able to install Windows 7 apps on Windows 8 for ARM - called Windows RT. Windows RT will get most of Microsoft's Office apps - Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote - but users of x86/64 tablets must pay extra.
Also, something guaranteed to trip up consumers: there’s no switching of web sessions between the versions of Internet Explorer that will run in the planned “classic” Windows 8 desktop and Metro UI on the Intel machines that you can switch between.
Of course, both sets of numbers are nothing compared to where the real action is happening and where Microsoft wishes it could be bigger - smart phones.
Analyst Canalys, who tracks what's actually sold instead of inventory shuffled through the channel between PC makers and sellers, found smart phones out sold PC clients in 2011. Canalysis put sales of client PC sales - that includes tablets, netbooks, notebooks and desktops - at 415 million for last year, compared to 488 million for smart phones. ®
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