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What Would Make Windows 8 a Success?

October 04, 2012 | About:
The Science of Hitting

The Science of Hitting

245 followers
At the end of October, Microsoft (MSFT)'s Windows 8 operating system will hit the market – and in some ways, this has been a more fiercely fought battle than the presidential election. Everybody has an opinion on the functionality of the new OS, its potential uptake in the PC market, its potential impact on PC sales, etc. – and the debate goes on and on. I think I might be looking at this launch a bit different than some people and would like to run you through my thought process. To start, let's look at what Apple (AAPL) had to say in their most recently 10-K about PC sales:

“Mac net sales were $21.8 billion in 2011, representing an increase of $4.3 billion or 25% compared to 2010. Mac unit sales increased by 3.1 million or 22% in 2011 compared to 2010. The year-over-year growth in Mac net sales and unit sales was due primarily to higher demand in all of the company’s operating segments for MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, which were updated in July 2011 and February 2011, respectively. The year-over-year revenue growth for portables and desktops was 36% and 4%, respectively. Net sales of the company’s Macs accounted for 20% of the company’s total net sales for 2011.”

Some quick math shows that unit sales for 2011 of 17 million (roughly 5% of the global total of about 350 million) were preceded by 2010 unit sales of roughly 14.1 million; for the sake of comparison, let’s assume that every single Mac was sold in the back half of 2010, bringing the 18-month total to 31.1 million units. With that as our back drop, what would be considered a failure for Microsoft with the Windows 8 release? We don’t have to go too far back in history to find what many consider to be an unmitigated disaster by Microsoft: the hated Windows Vista. The OS was released in January 2007 and caught some backlash in a big way – in fact, CNET would end up rating it the “Worst Tech Product of 2007.” Fast forward 18 months, and we get an idea of what a disaster looks like: When the company reported their fiscal 2008 full-year results in July, Microsoft announced that more than 180 million licenses had been sold since the launch.

Thinking about these numbers is instructive – over a similar time period, Vista outsold Mac’s (which naturally come with OS X) at a pace of six-to-one. And remember, when Microsoft was dealing with Vista, they weren’t losing share (at least not in a huge way); they were simply maintaining their current hold on the marketplace among consumers (like myself) who decided to stick with XP. While Steve Ballmer rarely says anything worth quoting, here’s something that he noted in a recent interview worth considering:

“People talk about: ‘How healthy is the PC market?’ There's going to be close to 400 million PCs sold in the next year, which makes it a big market. And whether it's 405 (million) or 395 (million), it's a big market, and Windows 8 will propel that volume.”

I think this alone is the most overlooked point with this product launch: that vast majority of consumers will end up with a Windows 8 laptop, for the simple fact that most people don’t see the rationale in paying two-to-three times as much for a Mac when it has comparable utility.

On the other end of the spectrum in this battle, consider smartphones and tablets – Microsoft has failed to make a dent in those markets, but knows that being a player in these segments moving forward will be critical to their continued growth. Here’s some commentary from Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, probably the most informed blogger out there on all things Microsoft, when management showed off an early version of Win8 in June 2011 (with bold added for emphasis):

“A day after Microsoft showed off an early version of its user interface for Windows 8 -- and I've actually had a chance to actually see it (via videos and photos) -- I've got mixed feelings.

For tablets, I like the tiled interface that looks like it has taken its cues from Windows Media Center and Windows Phone. I've used the tiled interface on Windows Phone and I think it will be a great way to navigate Windows 8 when installed on a touch-first/touch-centric device.

For PCs, I am not so sure -- especially for legacy PCs, like my two-year-old ASUS thin and light laptop. Why would I put Windows 8 on this non-touch-centric machine… why should the default interface, optimized for gestures and touch, be required on a machine that I never plan to put my grubby fingers on?

I think the rationale is clear as day – for all intensive purposes, Microsoft doesn’t need to worry about the PC market: Windows 8 will sell on computers, and in a big way, regardless of its perception among techies (when I say big, I mean in comparison to any non-MSFT alternative). Microsoft is pushing this OS on consumers in the hope that the lure of familiarity (over time) and connectivity among devices will be enough to lure their faithful desktop base of more than 1 billion people into the world of smartphones and tablets (where the OS has received accolades) – and in my mind, this is all that matters.

Personally, I will be tracking Win8 tablet and smartphone adoption more than anything else, because I believe PC uptake is to some extent little more than noise – when people look to replace their computers, the vast majority will continue to turn to Microsoft (maybe to Windows 7, but still to Microsoft), and money will flow back to Redmond. Foley’s mixed feelings (which happened to be shared by many others) are just fine – as long as consumers and enterprises are attracted to the OS on phones and tablets, my belief is that Windows 8 will prove to be a success in sustaining Microsoft’s dominance over time, and the stock will respond in a big way as this plays out over the coming years.

About the author:

The Science of Hitting
I'm a value investor, with a focus on patience; I look to buy great companies that are suffering from short term issues, and hope to load up when these opportunities present themselves. As this would suggest, I run a fairly concentrated portfolio by most standards, usually with 8-10 names; from the perspective of a businessman rather than a market participant / stock trader, I believe this is more than sufficient diversification.

I hope to own a collection of great businesses; to ever sell one, I would demand a substantial premium to the average market valuation due to what I believe are the understated benefits to the long term investor of superior fundamentals and time on intrinsic value. I don't have a target when I purchase a stock; my goal is to replicate the underlying returns of the business in question - which if I've done my job properly, should be very attractive over many years.

Rating: 3.8/5 (26 votes)

Comments

SeaBud
SeaBud premium member - 2 years ago
Good job. People who fail to see the changing landscape will be surprised when Apple's margins return to more "human" proportions - or they lose market share. The number of companies attacking apple's margins ecosystems includes:

- hardware suppliers - apple squeezes them like no other

- content suppliers - think everyone likes paying apple for itunes downloads?

- carriers - they despise subsidizing iphone prices

- Intel/Microsoft/Samsung/Nokia/HP/Dell/HTC - all other device manufacturers

Apple is a great company who has had a phenomenal run. But to expect them to continue in the face of the above competition is tough. What does this mean for Microsoft? As you point out, they will succeed whatever Apple's success or failure because of their base in Office and PCs. I believe success for microsoft in mobile will be a growth driver but given their size/revenue, and the fact that microsoft cannot control its environment the way Apple has to generate huge margins, will not produce explosive growth (or failure). Therefore, I see Microsoft as a very safe stock with decent to significant upside.

Other players in the non-Apple world (Dell/Intel/Nokia) represent higher risk but higher reward plays on the success of Windows 8 (incl mobile). These companies do not have the backbone of office to rely on but growth will be more meaningful to them (although Intel, given its cutting edge fabs/technology is more like Microsoft than any of the others). Next few years to be fascinating.

vchaser
Vchaser - 2 years ago
Good analysis!

Regarding Apple, I remember Steve Jobs said "Google is more and more like Microsoft". Yes. I kind of have that feeling more and more. What Google does now is similar to what Microsoft did to Apple in late 70's and 80's. Apple just fell into that old closed loop again. IPHONE 5 's map issue should be some alarm for investors : no matter how cool, fancy and fast your hardware is, it is eventually and mostly the software gives the user experience, without good software and good user experience, customers can wait. Is this something reflecting Apple and Google's moats?

In the long term, I personally think web is the biggest enemy of microsoft. With internet, I don't need to use Windows and can do most of my work online. Should I pay so much to Microsoft just for an OS setting up my web access?

aagold
Aagold premium member - 2 years ago
I haven't tried Windows 8 yet, but I sure hope it's easy to put it in "legacy" desktop mode. As a MSFT shareholder, obviously I hope Win 8 is a success. But I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like much change when it comes to the OS and software I use. They always change stuff on me when I feel like it was working just fine before. I have a feeling that the new tiled "metro" interface is going to make me feel that way when using Win 8 on a laptop. I'm guessing I'll be saying to myself, "This is stupid. It was working great before, why did they change it?". I'm sure the new interface will be great for a phone or a tablet, but I'm guessing it's going to seem stupid for a desktop or laptop. So I hope it's *really* easy to put it in legacy deskptop mode and not have to worry about all of that new "immersive" stuff.

One thing I've noticed: I really *like* having multiple windows on the screen at the same time. Most people seem to like full-screen mode and to switch between applications, but I don't. So I'm worried that this new tablet-oriented interface is going to really bug me...

Your analysis seems spot-on to me. They'll still get a huge fraction of the desktop/laptop OS sales, and the new tablet/phone sales, which is really what should benefit from the new interface, should all be incremenal revenue growth.

My only serious beef with MSFT is their balance sheet - we the shareholders want our cash! If you don't want to repatriate it and pay the taxes, then issue some bonds and use the proceeds for a share buyback! Please relay that message to Ballmer, if you could please...

- aagold

The Science of Hitting
The Science of Hitting premium member - 2 years ago
Seabud,

Agreed; thanks for the thoughtful comment!

Vchaser,

Thanks! And so far people seem to think they still need the OS - as proven by Chromebook sales to date (as far as I know they've been very weak); but that is an interesting scenario for consideration...

Aagold,

I'm certainly not a techie, but from my limited experience with Win8, getting back to the legacy desktop was a one click process - but I believe I heard before that you could not set it as your default, so each time you shut down this quick step would need to be repeated. Thinking about how I use my current OS (XP), I don't think it will be much different; most of what I need is performed by clicking icons, and this will be the same thing for all intensive purposes - just bigger icons.

In terms of the balance sheet, you know I agree; the recent dividend increase was right in line with expectations - and a huge disappointment in my mind. Thanks for the comment!

rolandparenteau
Rolandparenteau - 2 years ago
As a technical writer who thinks grammar matters:

what's with this use of the phrase "for all intensive purposes"? You mean "for all intents AND purposes."

I suspect this error happened (twice, once in the article and once in the response to a comment) because you're dictating to something like Dragon Naturally Speaking, but not sufficiently proofing the dictation.

Please train your dictation software to use "for all intents and purposes." Words are a columnist's currency. Your credibility is at stake.
The Science of Hitting
The Science of Hitting premium member - 2 years ago
Roland,

I don't use any dictation tools, and that was purely my error; now that I know the correct phrase, I'll make sure to use it in the future! Thanks for that clarification!

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