Nikhil Kumar: Ailing Microsoft really should have taken the tablet a long time ago

US Outlook: It seems hours spent keying in computer code have failed to give this giant the shot in the arm it needs

It's been a busy couple of months for the folks up in Redmond. Many millions and untold hours went into the creation of the latest version of Microsoft's Windows operating system and the accompanying Surface Tablet, both of which, the twin pillars of the technology giant's assault on the world of touchscreen computing, were launched with what was one of the priciest ad campaigns in the history of American business.

How are they doing? It's been only a month, but from what we know, Microsoft has sold some 40 million Windows 8 licences in the month since the launch. That's from Tami Reller, one of the new co-heads of the Windows business, who made the disclosure at a recent conference. Without revealing how many of the licences represented sales of new computers running the revamped software, Ms Reller added that version 8 was already setting a faster pace in terms of upgrades than version 7. All of which is great. Kind of.

Shortly after Ms Reller's disclosure came figures from the sales-tracking firm NPD, which said unit sales of Windows PCs in the United States had dropped by 21 per cent in the four-week period to 17 November.

Though Windows 8 was only launched on 26 October, late in the first week, the figures do offer at least one clue: that the new version of Microsoft's OS did not provide even a temporary boost to PC sales, which have been lodged in the doldrums for a while.

There is a revealing difference in the data here, in that NPD counts sales to retail customers, whereas Microsoft's 40 million figure, as many have pointed out, reflects sales to everyone, including, more often than not, manufacturers who install the software on their machines before selling them on to consumers.

But whichever way you look at it, the impression you're left with is that Windows 8, at least at this early stage, has not lured droves of eager customers who have rushed out to their nearest Microsoft store (yes, they do exist) to snap up a Windows 8 PC.

Clues about the early fate of Surface appear to be yet more discouraging. We haven't had an official number, though Steve Ballmer has been quoted by a French daily as saying that the tablet had had a "modest" start, according to remarks translated by Reuters. Microsoft's CEO put this down to an initial lack of availability, which, he suggested, would change as the device is rolled out.

Moreover, to be fair to the company, the current version of Surface is a kind of Surface-lite, which doesn't, for instance, work with old Windows application. It will be supplemented by a more powerful version early next year and it's entirely possible that some customers are putting off buying the new device until then.

So, the tide may yet turn but, thus far, it seems that all those millions and all those hours spent keying in line after line of computer code have failed to give this giant the shot in the arm it needs.

And if you're wondering why, the answer was supplied by the boss. Replying to a question at the annual shareholder meeting last month, Mr Ballmer acknowledged that Microsoft shouldn't have waited so long before tip-toeing down the tablet and touchscreen path trailblazed so spectacularly by Apple. "Bill did hold up a tablet many years ago," Mr Ballmer said. "Maybe if we had started innovating then, which is what we really did with Surface, maybe we should have done that earlier."

There it is. A summation of the critical thing that's wrong with Microsoft. Put Mr Ballmer's quotes in context, read them in the light of all that's been achieved by Apple and the decline in PC sales, and it becomes clear that the once-nimble business that startled the world with its ability to take small and varied forays in silicon valley and turn them into pioneering products such as the early instalments of Windows, has become … well, slow and sluggish. No amount of advertising can turn that around. Sorry, Mr Ballmer, but when Mr Gates held up the tablet, you should have grabbed it with both hands. There simply isn't a question of maybe.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - Financial Services - OTE £65,000

£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Underwriter

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border