Ballmer was speaking at a San Francisco event where Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 hardware were being showcased. Windows 8 itself officially launched last Friday, but has been available in preview form for more than a year. Comparing the new OS to its predecessor is natural, but could Windows 8, which has been intensely polarizing in the tech community, really be more in demand than the incredibly popular Windows 7, which famously fixed what Windows Vista had broken?
To find out, I spoke with Jay Chou, senior research analyst at IDC's Worldwide PC Tracker. While he cautioned that Ballmer may be privy to some statistics not yet publicized, Chou suggested that Windows 8 probably isn't going to move PCs the way Windows 7 did — but that this has as much to do with the broader PC market as it does with the desirability of the OS. "Our outlook on Windows 8 is that it will bring somewhat of a boost on the consumer side, but really, its full impact won't be felt till much later. We don't see it as a significant factor that will help the hardware business to recover."
He compared the circumstances of the release to those in 2009, when Windows 7 launched. At the time, millions of consumers and businesses were waiting eagerly for a chance to upgrade, having skipped the poorly received Windows Vista. Not only that, but netbooks were still selling at high rates, and Windows 7 was a great fit for that type of PC. Windows 7, in other words, arrived just when people wanted to buy into both new hardware and a new operating system.
Now, however, the economy has slowed PC shipments, tablets have replaced netbooks as the best option for casual computing, and for many people, the upgrade to Windows 7 is still fresh in their minds. Furthermore, Windows 8 isn't a cheap upgrade: "Cost is a factor," said Chou. "To really take advantage of Windows 8, you need the hardware, the touch capability. You might have to upgrade your mouse or get a multi-touch trackpad."