Ballmer made those predictions even though PC shipments had fallen year-over-year in the quarter before. They then continued to contract in the next four quarters and show no short-term sign of recovery. According to estimates by researchers at IDC and Gartner, PC shipments will decline in 2013 at more than double the rate of 2012.
The dismal results so far for Windows 8 and Windows RT -- together, they accounted for 5.4% of all operating systems used to go online in July -- have put a spotlight on Microsoft's inability to capitalize on the quick-growing tablet market, a fault Windows 8 was supposed to quickly correct.
"It's clear that the problems of Windows 8, Windows RT were not addressed in a short enough timeframe," said Moorhead, referring to Microsoft waiting until May to admit that the first iteration had been a miss and it would release the Windows 8.1 course correction this year. "The result was a PC market that didn't get back to Windows 7 levels."
Even the recast of Windows with Windows 8.1, while generally applauded by analysts, may be too little too late to repair the damage. Lenovo, the Chinese PC maker that last quarter was the world's largest, recently struck a deal with an American company, SweetLabs, to bundle the latter's Start button and Start menu replacements on all its computers, essentially a vote of no confidence in Windows 8.1's marketability without third-party tweaks.
It didn't help Ballmer's cause that the company for the first time competed with its traditional computer-making partners by launching its own line of hardware, the Surface RT last October and the Surface Pro this past February. "That infuriated their biggest customers," said Moorhead. "The OEMs have all divorced themselves from Windows RT."
But in July, when Ballmer unveiled a company-wide reorganization, he seemed to put even more emphasis on Microsoft's plans to compete with its OEMs.
Ballmer doesn't see Windows 8 the way his critics do. In the few interviews Ballmer granted Friday, it was the earlier Vista he rated as his greatest disappointment, not the new Windows 8. "I would say probably the thing I regret most is the, what shall I call it, the loopedy-loo that we did that was sort of Longhorn to Vista," Ballmer told long-time Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet.
But Ballmer would not be the first casualty of a botched operating system at Microsoft.