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

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 (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.

  • mauller07
    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.
  • hangfirew8
    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.
  • 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 &%#$'.
  • bloodlust22
    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...
  • icedeocampo
    A graph would be able to easily convey the idea in this write up which is vague to say the least.
  • dark_knight33
    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. ;-)
  • spookyman
    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.

  • beavermml
    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...
  • lradunovic77
    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.
  • f-gomes
    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.