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How Do 400 Million Windows 7 Licenses Compare Against Windows XP and Vista History?

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 49 comments

Steve Ballmer proudly announced that Microsoft has sold 400 million Windows 7 licenses. It's a big number by any measure, but how does it compare to Windows Vista and Windows XP?

It has become a tradition for me that I am looking a bit closer into Microsoft's operating system license shipments every time Microsoft announces a new number with the subtle remark that a certain Windows is the fastest selling operating system ever. I don't know about you, but I never heard Microsoft ever announcing that any of its OSes was not the fastest selling OS in Windows history. Even Vista was, apparently, but we know that Vista wasn't exactly a success which tells us that a big number does not mean necessarily that a particular OS is a big success.

So, do 400 million Windows 7 licenses mean that Windows 7 is a big hit? Let's see.

We need to break this number down and put it in perspective to actual PC sales. Windows 7 launched on October 22, 2009 and has sold, on average, about 20 million licenses per month since then (give or take a few hundred thousand per month to even out the pre-sales event preceding the OS launch in 2009). During those 20 months, the global PC industry sold about 591 million PCs, which means that Microsoft shipped about 68 Windows licenses for every 100 PCs sold (let's forget the upgrades for a moment and take this number as a way to compare sales).

What is particularly stunning about the 20 million-per-month number is the fact that it is very consistent and there seems to almost clockwork in play to achieve those 20 million units. 100 million Windows 7 licenses were sold after 6 months, 150 million after 8 months, 240 million after 12 months and 300 million after 15 months. It is almost spooky. Windows 7 sales may be declining just a tad from the 8 month mark, but it's not significant.

Windows Vista, in comparison, sold 128 million licenses in 9 months, or 12 months, if we include the 3-month Express Upgrade cycle that enabled Microsoft to make the 2006/2007 holiday season (Vista was officially released to retail in January 2007, but was available through a coupon beginning in October 2006). So, a fair comparison would be that Vista sold just over 10 million units per month in the first year. Microsoft then announced 180 million units in August 2008 or 19/22 months after launch, which dropped the average to about 8 million units per month: interestingly enough, that means that Windows 7 has outsold Vista already as Windows Vista sold 384 million licenses in a best case scenario (48 months * 8 million units) until it was discontinued in October of last year.

In its first year Microsoft sold about 88 million retail copies of Windows Vista and an additional 40 million licenses. According to Gartner, 271 million PCs were sold in 2007. Those 128 million Vista units closely compare to those shipments (yes, there are three months that don't match up, but I am not attempting to do a scientific study here, but it's close enough for the purpose of this article). So, in that situation, Microsoft shipped only 47 Vista licenses for each 100 PC sold and there is the clear indication that Windows 7 is vastly more successful than Vista - not just in absolute numbers, but in a market share view as well. We don't know how many Windows 7 and Vista licenses went into upgrades, but given the fact that Vista could not impact Windows XP's market share, I tend to believe that Vista completely failed in the upgrade market and a good portion of Windows 7 shipments are in the upgrade cycle as XP PCs get old (or really old) and are being replaced (and Vista PCs are upgraded).

But what about XP? There are hardly any numbers available as far as XP shipments are concerned. Microsoft said two months after XP launch that 17 million licenses had been sold and Wikipedia quotes an article at ITworld.com (the article is not available anymore) in which an IDC analyst apparently estimated that 400 million XP copies were in use in January 2006 - or about 50 months after the OS's launch.

Assuming that the analyst was somewhat right, that would put XP sales roughly in the area of 8 million units per month (400 million units divided by 50 months) - or the same monthly volume that was achieved by Vista. The difference, however, is that far fewer PCs were sold during those 50 months than during the 48 months of Windows Vista availability. For example, Gartner estimates that about 132 million PCs were sold in 2002, 169 million in 2003, 189 million in 2004 and 212 million in 2005. With a reasonable adjustment for an extra 2 months to compensate for the aforementioned Windows XP sales period of 50 months, it appears that Microsoft sold about 400 million XP licenses during a time when about 730 million PCs were sold (more than 1.1 billion PCs were sold during the lifetime of Vista.) So, Microsoft sold about 55 XP licenses for every 100 PCs that were sold in this example - if the unknown IDC analyst is right - and excluding any double or retired XP licenses that are canceled out by the statement of "active" licenses.

Of course, these are equations that only loosely relate to each other. What they do tell us, however, is that Windows 7 is in fact a tremendously successful operating system for Microsoft.

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  • 17 Hide
    mauller07 , July 14, 2011 12:39 PM
    i take all this as windows 7 being the decent upgrade from xp, while vista started implementing the features that would be improved in windows 7, it was rushed in places. this caused bad publicity and the decline in uptake of vista. i still know many tech illiterate people who hate vista on its original release even after sp2 helping alleviate many of the problems.
  • 12 Hide
    Anonymous , July 14, 2011 1:00 PM
    deleted previous user's innappropriate post.

    Evidently you give enough of a &%#$ to bother clicking on the article, scrolling down to the bottom, typing "i don't give a &%#$" and pressing "Submit my comment".

    Seems a massive amount of effort to go to for somebody who supposedly doesn't 'give a &%#$'.
Other Comments
  • 17 Hide
    mauller07 , July 14, 2011 12:39 PM
    i take all this as windows 7 being the decent upgrade from xp, while vista started implementing the features that would be improved in windows 7, it was rushed in places. this caused bad publicity and the decline in uptake of vista. i still know many tech illiterate people who hate vista on its original release even after sp2 helping alleviate many of the problems.
  • 4 Hide
    hangfirew8 , July 14, 2011 12:55 PM
    Vista is still slow to appear to react to user interaction, even after SP2. It doesn't matter if Vista is "faster" than XP by running an app in 30 seconds instead of XP's 32... if it takes 3-4 seconds to give the user feedback that they've even launched the app.

    On top of fixing perceived speed, Windows 7 has a significantly better performing TCP/IP stack.

    Some folks with overclocked i7 quad cores and 8-16GB of memory say smugly "Vista runs fast for me!" Meanwhile the average Vista user with a slow dual core Turion and 1GB of RAM is wondering if she should double click again, or wait a few more seconds.

    In other words... there are still plenty of good reasons to hate on Visa, even for the technically literate.
  • 12 Hide
    Anonymous , July 14, 2011 1:00 PM
    deleted previous user's innappropriate post.

    Evidently you give enough of a &%#$ to bother clicking on the article, scrolling down to the bottom, typing "i don't give a &%#$" and pressing "Submit my comment".

    Seems a massive amount of effort to go to for somebody who supposedly doesn't 'give a &%#$'.
  • -5 Hide
    bloodlust22 , July 14, 2011 1:01 PM
    WOW, So in other words alot of OEM's have bought a great deal of keys in bulk. Again, WOW. Instead of MS showing skewed data, Why not show how many of those 400 million keys have actually been activated by a end user? I highly doubt there's 400 million users out there running Windows 7. I would guess maybe 100-150 million are actually running Windows 7 while they other 250 - 300 million are still sitting at Dell, HP, Sony, Store shelves, etc...etc...
  • 7 Hide
    icedeocampo , July 14, 2011 1:13 PM
    A graph would be able to easily convey the idea in this write up which is vague to say the least.
  • 0 Hide
    dark_knight33 , July 14, 2011 1:14 PM
    You're article makes quite a bit of assumptions in your analysis, but the way you state your conclusion makes it seem like simple math. The truth of the matter is, the sales figures used are mostly released by Microsoft. Perception is everything; if you want your product to be successful, people need to think it's successful.

    W7 may be a better OS than Vista (this is true in my own experience), but given the research figures your article relies on should be taken with a grain of salt, so should your article. ;-)
  • -3 Hide
    spookyman , July 14, 2011 1:19 PM
    Windows XP came out a year after Windows 2000 was launched. There was no launch party or campaign when it released to push the OS out to the masses compared to 2000, Vista or 7.

  • -1 Hide
    beavermml , July 14, 2011 1:27 PM
    you know.. i think vista plays a very important part for windows 7.. we all know that vista is so bloated and i cant help wondering that may be microsft purposely did that so it can somehow force us to upgrade our machine ( or buy new one ) in preparation for next windows.. i cannot help wondering that the next windows ( 8? ) will be so bloated that we again have to upgrade our machine or buy a new one just to boot it... so that our pc will be ready for the next windows 9?.. well... i dont think any standard computing ( office, web surfing, etc ) needs more than a core2duo UNLESS the OS really bloated...
  • -4 Hide
    lradunovic77 , July 14, 2011 1:31 PM
    Funny thing is that Windows XP will be still dominant when Windows 8 is released which means that people don't want what MS is trying to push since Windows Vista and that is bloatware OS.
  • 7 Hide
    f-gomes , July 14, 2011 1:47 PM
    bloodlust22WOW, So in other words alot of OEM's have bought a great deal of keys in bulk. Again, WOW. Instead of MS showing skewed data, Why not show how many of those 400 million keys have actually been activated by a end user? I highly doubt there's 400 million users out there running Windows 7. I would guess maybe 100-150 million are actually running Windows 7 while they other 250 - 300 million are still sitting at Dell, HP, Sony, Store shelves, etc...etc...


    And how can yuo justify such a guess? Just a hunch? That's worth 0, as I'm sure you know.
  • 3 Hide
    belardo , July 14, 2011 1:50 PM
    Win2000 didnt have much of a launch... That went to windows ME. Then xp came out soon afterward as the proper os to replace win9x OSes. There was fanfare for xp.

    The numbers are even lower for Vista. Why? A lot of people replaced vista with upgrades to XP. And throughout vistas life, xp oem was available. Think pads continued to sell with xp, etc. Keep in mind... Even when a company like Lenovo sold a Thinkpad with xp, it WAS SOLD with a vista licence with an XP option. Ie: if they sold 500,000 with xp, they were only counted as Vista sales.

    I only know of one person I meant in rearl life who though Vista was good. I have 2 PCs with Win7... I'd never ever would except vista on my hardware... I'd take xp first. Note: win7 ain't perfect... It's faults are same as vistas.
  • 2 Hide
    RazberyBandit , July 14, 2011 1:56 PM
    bloodlust22WOW, So in other words alot of OEM's have bought a great deal of keys in bulk. Again, WOW. Instead of MS showing skewed data, Why not show how many of those 400 million keys have actually been activated by a end user? I highly doubt there's 400 million users out there running Windows 7. I would guess maybe 100-150 million are actually running Windows 7 while they other 250 - 300 million are still sitting at Dell, HP, Sony, Store shelves, etc...etc...

    I kinda said something similar in yesterday's announcement article. The only issue I have with what you've said is that none of the data presented was from Microsoft, save the numbers of licenses sold. Microsoft isn't making any comparative analogy, Wolfgang is.

    The sheer number of PCs sold has risen drastically since XP's day, naturally. Why naturally? World population increase is one factor, and progress within nations with economies that have grown over the last ~10 years (India, China, Korea, former Eastern-Bloc, and some Middle East nations) is another. With increased PC demand comes increased OS license sales. So, it's only logical to see Win7 reach XP's total number sold in less time.

    Wolfgang's comparison shows that Win7 has sold in a greater ratio to PCs sold than it's predecessors. How many of these licenses are actually in use presently is something we simply don't know. I'd venture to guess many, if not most, as the numbers show Win7 licenses have sold rather steadily over it's short lifetime,
  • -6 Hide
    bloodlust22 , July 14, 2011 2:21 PM
    f-gomesAnd how can yuo justify such a guess? Just a hunch? That's worth 0, as I'm sure you know.


    Yes, It is more or less a hunch since no one is actually going to spend millions upon millions to come up with such conclusive data. The reason I make this guess is based on the following. I work in the IT field doing many different things. Based upon what I have seen the ratio of users with XP/Vista to 7 is about 8 to 1. Now, again this is just a hunch, but from personal experience I know there's double the users using XP/VIsta then 7 and that's a fact. With that there would be roughly 1 billion people using XP/Vista. That again is not a accurate total.
  • 2 Hide
    mchuf , July 14, 2011 2:35 PM
    hangfirew8Meanwhile the average Vista user with a slow dual core Turion and 1GB of RAM is wondering if she should double click again, or wait a few more seconds.In other words... there are still plenty of good reasons to hate on Visa, even for the technically literate.


    Since 2 gb of ram is recommended for Vista. People with only 1gb should wonder why it's so damn slow. Hell, 1 gb of ram in XP is kinda slow.
  • 1 Hide
    hachem , July 14, 2011 2:53 PM
    i remember the time where i preferred the much hated windows me to xp. XP only became enjoyable/workable for me starting from service pack 2, before that, it was sh...
    i also learned to enjoy vista, even though it took me an hour to tweak it each time i installed it. so upgrading to windows 7 was indeed a great positive change. i consider windows 7 as the actual vista sp3.
  • 1 Hide
    cookoy , July 14, 2011 3:04 PM
    only microsoft can have the exact figures of how much licenses were sold. win7 does seem to be the fastest selling one, given that a lot of people were waiting to replace their aging xp or were holding off on using vista. what is interesting is the actual number of xp vs win7 that were in used - from all sources, legally (purchased/licensed) and illegally (pirated, cracked)
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 14, 2011 3:08 PM
    You know bloodlust22, the plural of anecdote isn't data.
  • 0 Hide
    hellwig , July 14, 2011 4:00 PM
    bloodlust22WOW, So in other words alot of OEM's have bought a great deal of keys in bulk. Again, WOW. Instead of MS showing skewed data, Why not show how many of those 400 million keys have actually been activated by a end user? I highly doubt there's 400 million users out there running Windows 7. I would guess maybe 100-150 million are actually running Windows 7 while they other 250 - 300 million are still sitting at Dell, HP, Sony, Store shelves, etc...etc...


    I agree with the principle, even if the number might be a bit off.

    Think about every computer sitting in a box in BestBuy or Staples. Think about every physical copy of Windows 7 (Home, Pro, Ultimate) sitting on the shelves. Think about the millions more computers and retail boxes sitting in the warehouses of Dell, HP, Newegg, etc... Every one of those has a Windows 7 License attached to it, and NONE of them are being used. It's not hard to imagine a few dozen million (maybe 100 million) unused licenses as we speak.

    It's the same with the record and book industries. The "sales" numbers for newly released albums and books are the number of units shipped to a retailer. Ever walk into a store and see 100 copies of the same CD marked down to $5? Well, Sony BMG or Warner Bros claimed all 100 of those CDs as sales, even if no one buys them. You ever go to a wholesale/overstock book store? Those books are all returns. The publishers initially claimed them as sales, then the stores returned them (oops), and now they're 3-for-$10. Sure, that latest Vampire thriller sold 10-million copies, but 9-million ended up at a flea-market.

    Long story short, the numbers released by the company doing the releasing are pretty meaningless this day and age.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 14, 2011 4:26 PM
    Your statement shows how little you know about retail environments. Most retail stores only pay for books, magazines, movies, and games/software that they sell. Not that they get shipped to them. There are exceptions, but generally if a retailer like Wal-mart, Target, or Best Buy doesn't sell it, then the vendors, merchandisers, and sales representatives from the various distribution companies have to come and pick it back up and take it back. The final word is, the sale is only a sale once it is scanned at the register and removed from the retailer's inventory. This only applies to OS licenses sold to stores as retail box copies, however. Licenses packaged in with whatever garbage is on the shelf in the store are already sold, but those were sold to someone else.

    Also, you know very little about manufacturing. Companies do not buy massive amounts of something in order for it to sit in a warehouse waiting to be mated up with other components and a finished product built out of it. Nearly all factories only maintain enough inventory to build a certain amount of product over a certain length of time, and it doesn't make sense to order many hundreds of thousands of something only to wait for it to be mated up with other assembly materials.
  • -7 Hide
    Anonymous , July 14, 2011 5:37 PM
    THAT'S MORE SIMPLE, TODAY ALMOST ALL THE NOTEBOOKS AND NETBOOKS CAME WITH SOME SORT OF WINDOWS 7, AND THE MARKET OF THESE MACHINES INCREASE INCREDIBLY FAST DUE TO THE REDUCED PRICES AND COMPETITIVE MARKET. THAT EXPLAIN THIS FENOMENON
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