Windows 7 sales roll as businesses increase adoption

Sales of Microsoft Windows 7 desktop OS are impressive, but more surprising is the 40 million copies of Windows XP installed.

The freight train that is Microsoft's desktop operating systems business just keeps rolling down the tracks.

It came as little surprise to many when Microsoft recently said it had sold 350 million Windows 7 licenses over the last 18 months. Microsoft now says, naturally, that Windows 7 is the fastest selling version of Windows out of the blocks. But given there are many more PCs shipping compared to 2005 when Windows Vista debuted, if Windows 7 wasn't the fastest selling version of all time something would be very wrong.

One observer not so surprised was Al Gillen, IDC's program vice president in charge of system software. Gillen has Windows 7 paid new license shipments at 31 million for 2009, 158 million for 2010 and expects some 204 million for 2011. Windows 7 sales going to business, as expected, have escalated since its October 2009 introduction with 7 million in 2009, 102 million in 2010 and an estimated 113 million this year, he said.

On the business side, companies installed 57 million copies of Windows 7 in 2010. Rather surprisingly, some 40 million copies of Windows XP were also installed. He also added that about one in every five copies of Windows 7 was downgraded to Windows XP.

"Windows XP and (Windows) Vista together gave Windows 7 a run for its money in 2010,” Gillen said. “But in 2011, that should flip flop pretty dramatically. In 2011, Win 7 just blows away everything else."

IDC estimates that over 90% of businesses are at some stage of migrating to Windows 7.

With the vast majority of PCs shipping now containing 64-bit processors, sales of the 64-bit version of Windows 7 are picking up, and with Windows 8 not likely to ship until deep into next year, it seems reasonable Microsoft could dump the 32-bit version.

"If you're asking me to bet if there won't be a 32-bit version of Windows vNext , l would say there is a 60-40, maybe even 75-25% chance there won't be, at least not on x86," Gillen said.

Figures for 2010 showed a 70-30 split between 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 respectively on the business side, with 56% of consumers using the 64-bit and only 40% using the 32-bit version.

"I would argue two-thirds of the installed base today -- never mind 18 months from now (projecting when Windows 8 might arrive) -- is on 64-bit desktops. And with more inexpensive modern peripherals arriving with 64-bit support, going to 64-bit (desktop operating systems) is becoming less and less of an issue," Gillen said.

Even if Windows 8 arrives late in 2012 (the silence from Redmond is deafening on that particular subject), it's likely Microsoft will ship both a 32- and 64-bit versions of the upcoming system. Why? Well Bob Dylan in "Cold Irons Bound” says it well:

"Some things last longer than you think they will;
There are some kind of things you can never kill."

The all 64-bit world could be a lot longer off than we think it is.

Ed Scannell is Executive Editor of Data Center and Virtualization Group. He can be contacted at

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