With Windows — perhaps more than any other major tech product — it's difficult to come to definitive conclusions about how it's doing based on raw numbers. A gigantic number of new PCs are going to ship with the current version of Windows no matter what; sales figures don't tell you what people think of Windows 8 once they get it, and convey only so much about whether typical consumers see it as an inducement to buy a new computer, or an argument against doing so.
That said, some numbers are better than no numbers — and in a new Q&A blog post, Tami Reller, the Microsoft executive responsible for the business side of Windows, has disclosed some new ones, while failing to mention one meaningful metric.
Reller says that Microsoft has sold more than 100 million copies of Windows 8 since the operating system shipped on October 26. That means that the new version has matched Windows 7's performance rather precisely: that version also sold 100 million licenses in the first six months. Again, it's tough to know what to make of this fact. You could argue that Windows 8 should be outpacing Windows 7 given that there are now more PCs in the world than there were in 2009, when Windows 7 debuted; then again, you could also make the case that stable Windows sales are an accomplishment given that PC sales have been plunging lately.
Me, I've said all along that Windows 8's sales during its first few months didn'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. If history judges it a failure, it'll be because the reinvention didn't work. Either way, this thing is so much of a departure that it'll take more than six months before we know.
(Disclaimer: by “post-PC era,” I don't mean an era in which the PC doesn't matter. I just mean that it's no longer a given that the dominant form of PC will look like the desktops and laptops we've known and will run an operating system from Microsoft. I continue to maintain that anything that you do personal computing on, including tablets and phones, is a PC.)
Of course, Windows 8, like all platforms, needs lots and lots of great apps which take advantage of its interface. Reller says that the quantity of apps in the Windows Store has increased by 6x since Windows 8 launched; that it has more apps than were available for iOS in the first year of Apple's App Store; that 250 million apps have been downloaded.
What she doesn't say, however, is how many apps the Windows Store has. (MetroStore Scanner, an independent site, says that the current count is a bit under 68,000.) The quantity of apps available for a platform is far less important than their quality. Still, if the quantity was worth crowing about, Reller presumably wouldn't have been so oblique — and before Windows 8's launch, one of her colleagues had said that the goal was to get to 100,000 apps within the first three months.
Microsoft has already acknowledged that it's working on an update to Windows 8 code-named Windows Blue. Reller doesn't say anything specific about its new features, but does say that it'll be available this year. Assuming that the company wants to have it out by the fall, in plenty of time for the holidays, I suspect that it'll start disclosing specifics soon. If you've been wondering whether Windows Blue will bring back the Start button — and if so, what will happen when you press it — you may not have to wait much longer.