So did people buy 30% fewer Windows PCs last quarter or not?

Confuzzlement in Redmond

There's a little confuzzlement surrounding Microsoft's earnings announcement last week.

It looks as if Microsoft's Windows revenues dropped 30 percent during the most recent quarter. But Microsoft told analysts it actually grew 3 percent.

The answer is in Microsoft's almost-illegal eagerness to demonstrate how popular Windows 7 was this time last year -- at the end of Q2 FY 2010.

The first thing was good: there was a spike of pre-launch orders for Windows 7 (from people who were sick of XP and hated Vista).

Microsoft also promised free upgrades to anyone who bought a Vista machine within a certain time before the launch of Windows 7. Rather than book the revenue from the Vista sales, it pushed them back from the FY09 Q4 to FY10 Q2, when customers would actually get the upgrades.

Take away those two effects and total Windows revenue rose 3 percent -- exactly the amount Gartner and IDC said the PC market grew during the same period.

All of which is fine.

Unless you're pushing as hard as you can to sell the newest version of the world's most popular operating system adapted to devices that have become a far hotter growth market than the one that makes up your base. And not impressing investors with it.

And your closest partner feels compelled to defend the whole product class that makes up your base as not being dead yet.

And investors are predicting you may be less profitable than a key competitor that you squashed into complete irrelevance 20 years ago, but didn't finish off.

And perception of your decline is so widespread people write about how to "save" you without having to explain in the headline why you might need saving.

And even optimistic projections see your primary market shrinking, without a clearly successful replacement on the horizon.

If the market is bad enough, mediocre performance or flat growth can be a victory.

If the market -- at least parts of your market -- are growing like weeds and you're sitting in the ground like a potato, mediocre just isn't going to cut it.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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