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 — ┬áthe 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

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