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January 19th, 2015

Microsoft Can’t Sell Laptops or Phones

Microsoft continues its slide into irrelevance, as least as far as consumer tech is concerned. Even the company’s successes, like the Surface Pro, are only relative successes. No matter how hopeful sales figures for the Pro may look, the device is still roadblocked by Redmond’s lack of apps for its mobile devices. Evidently, the holiday shopping season was dismal for Redmond, even in some areas where it would be expected to dominate as usual.

Take laptops, for instance, where Windows sales performance was laughable.

Microsoft Windows LogoOn Friday, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols posted a story on Computerworld illustrating just how low Windows has fallen. He points out that according to Amazon’s sales figures for the holidays, the top three best selling laptops were all running Chrome OS (with Linux inside), with nary a Windows machine in sight.

In case you’re figuring this to be just a meaningless bump in the road for Redmond, it actually represents a worsening trend. A year earlier, two of Amazon’s three best selling laptops were Chromebooks, with one running Windows.

In times past, this might be expected due to the “Microsoft tax” making Windows machines notably more expensive. Not so this year.

“… Microsoft assumed that by pulling out the same old tricks that had put an end to Linux netbooks in 2009, it could do in Chromebooks as well. Wrong!

“The plan was to offer OEMs Windows 8.1 With Bing essentially for nothing. Why such a low, low price? Well, back in February of last year, Microsoft had cut the price of Windows 8 on low-end devices by 70% and that had failed to get manufacturers or customers excited. The goal of the holiday “we can’t possibly go any lower” price was to enable vendors to sell low-end computers at bottom-of-the-rung Chromebook prices…and still make a profit.…”

Indeed, all of the OEMs showed up for the Christmas shopping rush will bells on, with Asus and HP offering Windows laptops for $199, about the same as a Chromebook. Which begs the question: If Microsoft can’t give Windows away for free on the laptop, how long will it be able to continue selling it on the desktop?

Not surprisingly, Microsoft’s fortunes loom even lower in the mobile department, where it currently has a global market share of about 3 percent. Paul Cook wrote about this today on Technogigs:

“But even [with] all the major investments being made in Microsoft’s Windows Phone, the device has received little or no recognition from the masses. To make matters worse, Microsoft’s global market share is also said to be lower than what it was previously, which has left many to speculate about Microsoft’s ability to come up with a new and more vigorous mobile strategy.”

According to Cook, Redmond is placing all its bets on the upcoming release of Windows 10, “…saying that it is their finest effort in building operating systems for cross-platform devices yet.” Hmmm…that might mean something if not for the fact that Windows only true cross platform version was the Windows 8 family, which not only failed to take hold on phones, it alienated many loyal Windows desktop users in the process.

It appears as if Microsoft’s master plan to become a dominant player in mobile is by becoming a bottom feeder. Earlier this month it announced the release of the 2G “smart feature phone,” the Nokia 215, for $29, causing Nathaniel Mott to say on PandoDaily that this “…proves Nokia’s future lies with low-cost devices.”

“The future of Nokia — or at least the portion of the company Microsoft acquired — remains with low-end smartphones that offer a good-enough experience to consumers who either don’t need or can’t afford better devices.”

Even on full fledged smartphones, the company is setting its sites low. Last week, it announced the release of two full featured Lumia phones, the 435 and 532, with prices of $80 and $91 respectively, which Time ties to the cheap feature phones.

“The bargain-basement Lumias will join a growing portfolio of Microsoft phones for shoppers on a shoestring budget, particularly in the developing world. Earlier this month, the company unveiled a $29 “Internet-ready” phone, not quite smart enough to be called a smartphone, but cheap enough to attract first-time buyers. Now those same buyers can upgrade to a Lumia smartphone for an extra $50, giving them an incentive to stick with the Windows brand.”

To make matters worse, Microsoft finds itself competing in mobile with companies it thought it had eliminated from the market — like Nokia for instance.

Microsoft may have bought the Finnish company’s mobile division back in 2011, but that hasn’t kept the “old” Nokia from keeping a hand in the mobile game, where it had once excelled.

Maybe it’s set to excel again. Earlier this month, MuleSoft reported that Finnish Nokia sold 20,000 of its N1 Android tablets in China in only four minutes, exhausting their supply for the promotion. In the overall scheme of things, 20,000 tablets isn’t an awful lot, but 20,000 in four minutes certainly is. Doubtlessly, Nokia has been ramping up production.

Meanwhile, the folks in Redmond are chanting the mantra, “Wait till Windows 10,” expecting their new latest and greatest to do what Vista and Windows 8 couldn’t do. Neither could Windows 7, really. It was merely a stopgap measure to keep dyed-in-the-wool Windows users from jumping ship until something better came along.

So far, that something better hasn’t happened.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

19 comments to Microsoft Can’t Sell Laptops or Phones

  • Uncle Ed

    >>Meanwhile, the folks in Redmond are chanting the
    >>mantra, “Wait till Windows 10,”

    Anybody remember the Osborne effect and how well promising for the future worked for Osborne? (Yes, there were some other problems in that company.)

  • A Lurker

    MS has a couple problems. The PC market is a mature market with slow growth. They do not understand the tablet/smartphone market as shown by their instance that most users want (or more inaccurately need) MS Office on a smartphone or tablet.

  • CH Tan

    Finally after all the years lampooning Linux, karma caught up with them. Ha! Ha!

  • Laxator2

    The main contribution in killing Linux netbooks came from Intel, not Microsoft. They were scared to let customers know that a 900Mhz Celeron (which was the processor of the original Asus Eee PC) was very fast when not bogged down by Windows bloatware. The OEMs were forced to build to some “minimal specifications” and also forced to price the Linux netbooks higher than the Windows one. At the time Intel did not have any processors ready for very cheap machines, now they do. Without Intel’s pressure there isn’t much Microsoft can do.

  • I think that a big part of the strategy that let Microsoft come back in the netbook market was the extension of life for Windows XP. XP was slow but runnable on netbooks. Windows 7 is a real dog on $200 hardware, and though Windows 8 is a bit better, people don’t like it for other reasons.

    There are two problems competing with Chromebooks that Microsoft didn’t have before:

    First, ChromeOS is a more unified and simple platform than Linux netbooks were. Cheap with a simple/obvious interface and not much to go wrong is a big appeal to the general population.

    Second, Microsoft has not Windows XP “ace in the hole” that they can pull out, put on competing hardware at a competing price and make customers happy.

    My brother took his cheap Windows 8.1 laptop purchased at the end of 2013 and asked me to do whatever I had to in order to make it run faster, including installing Linux. At first, I was skeptical to whether he really wanted Linux on it or for me to just clean up the Windows install. Eventually, though, he made it clear to me that he would prefer I put Linux on it if there were no complications due to the hardware. I put Ubuntu Studio 14.04 LTS on it (because I’m very familiar with that distribution). All the hardware worked great with no further effort from me. My brother is very happy with the Linux laptop so far.

    I think if my brother’s laptop had been higher end hardware that was capable of running Windows 8.1 well (with all the shovelware included by HP), then he would never have asked me to put Linux on it. I also suspect that if it had been a Chromebook he would have been more satisfied with it. I think he wants it to be able to do some things a Chromebook can’t do, which is why he decided on it and is happy with the Linux install, but still, at least he wouldn’t have been so aggravated by a Chromebook’s performance.

    On the other hand, I have a nephew who got a Windows 8.1 tablet, and he says the performance is OK. Shortly after he got it he said he didn’t use it much because for almost anything he wanted to do either his Android tablet (original Nexus 7) or his Linux laptop (a full-sized 17 inch one, but old) worked better. However, since he slipped on the ice and accidentally broke his Android tablet, he has been using that tablet much more. He had wanted to try out the tablet with a Linux distribution, but his research indicated the hardware was not workable with any current distribution. He’s not thrilled with it, but he considers it decent. This would seem to indicate that it’s at least possible for Windows 8.1 to work OK on low-spec hardware (If you can’t tell, my nephew is a fellow “techie” type and experimented with various firmwares on his Nexus tablet before it got broken, though he’s only fifteen.)

  • Changing Language

    …nary a Windows machine in site.

    should be

    …nary a Windows machine in sight.

    Sorry for the nitpicking. I always love a good Microsoft bashing article, and this one didn’t disappoint.

  • @Changing Oops! Thanks for the heads up. Good eye. Fixed.

  • LKS

    Could this be the beginning of the end of a despicable company? One can only hope. At the very least, however, MS is currently nothing but a bit player in the mobile world, with any realistic prospects other than wasting more money into keeping that precarious position.

  • Sum Yung Gai

    It should also be noted that at least some Chromebooks can run full-blown Ubuntu Touch. I know several people who are doing just that. There are several others I know who don’t even bother with desktops anymore. They say, “I can do everything I need with my phone or tablet/book!” And they’re right.

    The “can it run Microsoft Office?” argument inevitably comes up, just as it originally did for Mac OS X in 2001. I’ve found that it’s not necessary here. LibreOffice does virtually everything that Microsoft Office does, and LO does several things better. For email, that’s Web-enabled now. I’m not seeing throngs of people clamoring to run Outlook on their smartphones or tablets. We have better ways now for those devices. “The Year of Linux” has already happened. It just took a different form, the mobile platform.

    I remember 20 years ago when Microsoft was able to play the preannounce game with Chicago/Windows 95 (it’s coming! it’s coming!). Why is that much less likely to succeed now? Because people have already accepted Android. Anything that looks like Android, acts like Android, and can run the same apps as Android, will be pretty much viewed as “like Android”. That means platforms like ChromeOS and Ubuntu Touch will also be more readily accepted.

    –SYG

  • Evil3eaver

    MS should just pull an Apple, remove their monolithic integrated core and use *nix as a base with their bells and whistle ontop. This would save them many headaches and boost the performance bigtime and security too.

    Maybe this new CEO thinks of this and considers it seriously… if all of a sudden they chose to use Linux kernel with their own GUI (never mind X or mir or wayland) I’m sure most of the linux community would at least be interested enough to buy it and try it and it would also shut those windows forum trolls to shut their verbal diarrhea.

  • @Evil3eaver I think they’d have to do like Apple and base it on one of the BSD’s instead of Linux. Not only might they run into some legal issues with the GPL, putting their proprietary stack atop a GPL OS would be a public relations nightmare for them With BSD, they can do what they like and make the whole kit and kaboodle proprietary, which would also be easier for them to swallow, Microsoft being Microsoft.

  • Eli Cummings

    It’s funny really that they think people are going to abandon Windows 7 for Windows 8, 9 or 10.

    Windows 7 is the new XP. Interface functionality is a commodity in software. There is still improvement but it is marginal no matter what one is running. The actions are still the same, select application, launch application, do work, close application.

    Mobile (laptops not included since laptops are portable desktops) stuff is primarily streaming stuff (whether messages, emails, notifications, directions, music etc.).

    Microsoft’s problem is they simply can’t produce anything that will give them the margins they used to have. To paraphrase the old saying, they will do everything they can until they can only do what people are willing to pay for.

  • Michael Leones

    They should make Win7 free and sell the upgrades to 10. They made them irrelevant by only trying to cut deal with OEMs. Now Chromebook is eating their lunch. Surface Pro 3 is an awesome hardware to put Linux on. A good implementation of KDE Plasma would make it a star

  • Marcus Harman

    Let Microsoft die.

  • jelabarre

    @Christine Hall @Evil3eaver

    I have long suggested MS should switch to a *nix-based release. It would have been easier to implement back at the Wine/ReWind split, because they could have used the X11-licensed ReWind on top of BSD, and used their internal knowlege to fix the remaining incompatibilities, (which they would have likely kept to theselves inder the X11 license). But Wine has advanced immensely since then, while ReWind has pretty much died.

  • Simple Jack

    I don’t like Microsoft, but Android is not an alternative for me. Nor are any Telco created abominations (so called smart phones). All you are doing is jumping from the frying pan into the fire (Microsoft vs the Telcos generally speaking). Frankly I can’t wait until the Telcos die, making Android irrelevent… any damn computer or person should be able to communicate with another computer or person regarless of OS. Any reason why I can’t do this yet on Linux or any other system? I guess because the Telcos are the only ones permitted to create towers for wireless communication. Otherwise I have to hunt down a cafe or hotel or whatever. Pure BS, if you ask me. And, lastly, I hate… hate little devices with little screens with little keyboards. I was pretty much at this stage already 20-30 years ago. Mobile devices today are nice enough for some things, but don’t take away my desktop with it’s immense monitor and ergonomic keyboard and tons of cpu power (not to mention easy to swap out a power supply if I want). And again, I should be able use whatever I want to communicate wherever I want. Who ever creates this that uses the “internet”, I will gladly pay for it. Basically, I want to get rid of my “TV” and “phone” bills, and only pay for “internet” service (where I should be able to do all these things)… but then again, I’m simple.

  • duskoKoscica

    Go Android go!!!

  • […] of both Windows 7 and Windows 8. This was a strange synchronicity, as I’d wondered allowed in an article earlier in the week, “If Microsoft can’t give Windows away for free on the laptop, how long […]