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Microsoft sells 40 million Windows 8 licenses -- but whom to?

Microsoft claims that 40 million users have already moved to Windows 8, but IT pros doubt that many of those licenses went to corporate shops.

Microsoft claims it sold 40 million licenses for Windows 8 in the first month of its commercial availability. However, IT pros remain hesitant to deploy Windows 8.

The company hasn’t  provided any details regarding business versus consumer sales. Some IT pros doubt the sales include many businesses.

“How the hell did they sell 40 million licenses so fast?” said Bill Miller, director of IT for the South Carolina Dept. of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services. “I don’t know if I can believe that. I don’t know anybody doing any deployments. Most people say they’re not doing Windows 8”

“Even our [Microsoft] sales reps said it’s not enterprise-ready,” Miller added.

That’s largely because of the system’s revamped interface.

Many users haven’t deployed Windows 8 for various reasons such as lack of legacy application support, in addition to the obvious training issues with the new user interface. For the foreseeable future, Miller plans to roll out new PCs with Windows 7 rather than Windows 8.

IT pros are only half as interested in Windows 8 as they were Windows 7 three years ago, according to a Forrester Research study released in November.

“While we’ve seen a lot of interest in Windows 8, we currently do not have any deployments in the works,” said a spokesperson for a large Microsoft reseller who requested anonymity.

One important issue for their customers is that tools to enable IT to deploy and manage Windows 8 are still in beta and won’t be available until Microsoft’s System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 ships next year, the reseller said.

For comparison, in January 2010, Microsoft announced it had sold 60 million licenses for Windows 7 in its first two months of commercial availability – which made it the fastest selling version of Windows to that point. Now, Microsoft claims that early Windows 8 sales have surpassed that on a month-by-month basis.

That puts the two systems on the same trajectory, said Rob Helm, managing vice president of research for independent analysis firm Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash.

“The key is how many devices are deployed with Windows 8, and we won’t have a good picture of that until the end of January [when Microsoft reports Christmas quarter earnings],” Helm added.

Many of those licenses may have been sold into the channel but have not actually been sold to customers yet, some observers theorized. Additionally, Microsoft license agreements enable customers to deploy Windows 7 in place of Windows 8, or to buy machines with Windows 8 installed but then downgrade those systems to Windows 7 or earlier. Microsoft still gets to count those as Windows 8 licenses nonetheless.

Others point to Microsoft’s generous upgrade pricing offers, which range as low as $15 to $40.

“It’s kind of hard not to sell 40 million licenses when it’s so steeply discounted,” said Scott Frazier, IT administrator at electrical contractor, Con. J. Franke Electric in Stockton, Calif.

CEO Steve Ballmer has even higher ambitions for Windows 8, telling attendees at Microsoft’s annual shareholder meeting this week that he foresees 400 million Windows 8 machines to be sold in the next year.

Microsoft did not respond to requests to break out Windows 8 sales figures.

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