Welcome to the post-PC era

Windows 7 sells faster than any other Microsoft OS; it's still not enough

Intel spent a lot of effort huffing and puffing over the continued viability of Itanium after Oracle dropped it as a development platform. Microsoft has spent far more making the point that Windows is still the most popular operating system/computing platform on the planet and will continue to be.

Maybe, but that might not be saying nearly as much in a few years as it did a few years ago.

InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard continues to do the math on Microsoft announcements about how many copies of Windows it sells – partially because of what the number says about the makeup of the IT universe, partly what it says about the foundation of Microsoft's own power and standing.

Microsoft is thrilled that it sold more than 350 million Windows 7 licenses between October 2009 and April 22 of this year.

It's selling faster than Windows XP did, but Leonhard's conclusion, after comparing license sales with a compilation of estimates of PC sales, is that more than one third of all PCs sold during the first quarter shipped without Windows 7.

That's not quite as revolutionary as it sounds. Windows XP is still selling about one license for every two of Windows 7, which makes up most of the gap Leonhard points out.

It's on the way to revolutionary, though.

Tablets are eating into PC sales, according to Gartner, to the point that PC makers no longer get much of a boost simply by dropping prices. They want tablets instead.

IDC's latest quarterly estimate said PC shipments dropped 3.2 percent globally during the first quarter of 2011 compared to 2010.

"Tablets" right now means "iPad," especially according to this refreshingly direct headline from Tom's Hardware: Gartner: No Significant Market For Windows Tablets.

Of all the money that will be spent on personal computing devices of any kind during 2011, according to Deloitte, 46 percent will be tablets or smartphones.

This year or next, that number will pass 51 percent and we will have entered the "post-PC era" in which there will be little standardization in form factor, and there will be at least five major operating systems competing at any one time ("major" meaning at least five percent market share).

Windows 7 Microsoft likes to point out, is its fastest-selling OS ever. True. The rest of the world is changing faster than Microsoft or Windows 7, though, and the picture it presents by the end of 2011 will be very different from the one it presented at the beginning.

It will show more change in the hardware people use as their primary computing platforms than all of the previous five years.

No matter how you count the licenses, that's going to be a big drop for Microsoft, a huge boost for secondary and tertiary IT vendors of all kinds, and a big headache for IT people trying to keep up with them all.

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