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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...