A Brief History of Windows Sales Figures, 1985-Present

In 1990, Windows 3.0 sold at a then-blistering rate: four million copies in just one year.

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Windows 1.0

I may maintain that the fact that Microsoft has sold 100 million Windows 8 licenses in six months doesn’t mean much. But that doesn’t mean that Windows sales figures aren’t interesting. In fact, Microsoft’s news moved me to rummage around in Google Books, Microsoft’s press site and elsewhere for past sales data for various major editions of Windows dating back to version 1.0, which debuted in November 1985.

Paying too much attention to the exact numbers I quote below would be nuts. Some are from Microsoft; some are from other sources; some refer to all licenses sold while others relate only to boxed software. What’s fascinating is the overall trend and what it says about the number of PC users in the world. Back in 1990 — 15 years into Microsoft’s existence —  the fact that Windows 3.0 sold four million copies in its first year made it one of the industry’s biggest smashes until that time. Today, Windows 8 is selling 50 times as fast, and we’re trying to figure out whether that’s an encouraging sign or evidence that it’s a disappointment.

And now the numbers, all of which are for unit sales in copies or licenses:

  • Windows 1.0 sales from its November 1985 launch to April 1987: 500,000 (Computerworld)
  • Windows sales in 1988 (Windows 2.0 shipped on December 9, 1987): 1 million (InfoWorld)
  • Windows sales, all versions, 1985 to January 1990: less than 2 million (InfoWorld)
  • Windows 3.0 sales, first year: 4 million (InfoWorld)
  • Windows 3.1 sales, first 3 months or so: 3 million (InfoWorld)
  • Windows 95 sales, first year: 40 million (Network World)
  • Windows 98 sales, first four days: 530,000 boxed copies through retail channels (New York Times)
  • Windows 2000 sales, less than a month after launch: 1 million (Microsoft)
  • Windows ME sales, first three days: 200,000 boxed copies through U.S. retail channels (Network World)
  • Windows XP sales, first three days: 300,000 boxed copies through U.S. retail channels (Network World)
  • Windows XP sales, just over two months after launch: 17 million (Microsoft)
  • Windows Vista sales, one month after launch: 20 million (Microsoft)
  • Windows 7 sales, first six months: 100 million (Engadget)
  • Windows 7 sales from October 2009 launch to June 2010: 150 million (Neowin)
  • Windows 7 sales in less than two years: 450 million (TechCrunch)
  • Windows 8 sales in a little over two months: 60 million (ZDnet)
  • Windows 8 sales, first six months: 100 million (Microsoft)

Here, as an experiment in data visualization, is a little timeline I made with Preceden. (The relative size of the bars represent the time required to sell the number of copies indicated.)

[image] Windows sales

Your thoughts?


Windows says the version 10 has 110 Million downloads but doubt it has much penetration in the installed base.  While it looks very tempting on the surface, when it is used it is obvious Microsoft is tracking everything you do and it is not the user friendly software of version 7.  They want to control your entire experience and not let any other applications into your system.  Their new browser is a typical example, track everything, third party tool bars like google are dead and video applications controlled by Microsoft applications.  Ultimate control of your PC life courtesy of Microsoft.


According to and, Windows 8 has ALMOST reached the same market share as Windows Vista.  Windows 7 still shows about 10x the market share of each of the other two.  Windows 8 show a *considerably* slower adoption ratio during the first 6 months compared to Windows 7.  Looking at those statistics make the tech journalist estimates look grossly inaccurate, and probably fed by marketing figures.


Just be careful.  Just like Windows Vista and 7, Windows 8 was force fed into the customers whenever they buy a new PC.  They were given any choice.  

A key point arises with Windows 8. When there was no competition, the amount of PC sold whether the release was bad (as Windows Vista) or good (as Windows 7) was almost the same.

Today, that we have countless of competitions, selling 100 millions licenses is just a plain lie.  You sold about 60 or 70 million PCs, most of those to the enterprise, which rapidly changed the OS to Windows 7 (am writing this article in one of those), the other 30 to 40 million were Windows 8 boxes that were in deep deep discount.  I'm sure most of those boxes are lying there unopened, since people bought them "to be prepared" but as the Net Applications numbers show, they haven't been installed.

So the net effect is of course, a decline in the PC market which will make that 100 million mark tough to equal in the coming months.

I always equate Windows 8 with, for example, the movies Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace and Cars 2 (the latter is "sixth biggest Pixar film" according to the wikipedia). Both were box office successes, but the franchises they came from suffered from the low overall quality of the films. Most audience flock to see them, precisely because of their franchises.  Even the studios were harmed by their problems and had to make corrections afterwards.

In the end numbers aren't that good, since both in software and in films, some poor performers at the beginning (Windows XP, Blade Runner, Lotus 1-2-3, Apple Macintosh and the Rocky Horror Picture Show) become cult classics. Others, runaway successes (All the Narnias, Windows 98, FarmVille, Word with Friends, 2012, most new James Bond movies) have all been forgotten after just a couple of years.


Your figure radically under-represent Windows XP. These figures capture less than 5% of actual XP sales!


If you want a usefull barchart, the heights should vary too. 1st line half height 500k, 2nd line twice height 2m 3rd line same height 1m etc or maybe 1/2 of all that. Obviously last few cant be proportional.


I'm surprised that the Win8 sales are that strong.  It must be because of OEM installs... because everything else I read indicates that upgrades are not happening.