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PC shipments stink less, may prop up Microsoft's Q3 revenue

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 14, 2013
Windows revenue should beat 2% forecast, assuming analysts can parse Microsoft's new reporting format; Chromebooks account for 1% of shipments

The wild card is that Microsoft has turned its financial reporting upside down and inside out. Under the new format, driven by the massive corporate reorganization Microsoft undertook this summer, the Windows business will be broken apart and parceled out to three different categories. Surface revenue will be reported as part of the Hardware group in the Devices and Consumer division (D&C), sales of Windows to OEMs will fall into the Licensing bucket of D&C, and volume licensing and Software Assurance sales of Windows to enterprises will be under the Commercial division's Licensing group.

But Microsoft also faces a new -- albeit small-sized -- challenger, according to Singh and IDC's data: Google, its Chrome OS and the resulting Chromebook hardware sold by an increasing number of long-time Microsoft hardware partners.

"Chromebooks were much stronger than anticipated," said Singh Thursday. She pegged the number of Chromebooks shipped globally at 640,000, or about 0.8% of the total, with especially strong sales of the inexpensive notebooks to the educational market. In some cases, said Singh, Chromebooks won out over Apple's iPad in those school sales.

Others have noticed the growth of Chromebooks. Last month, Stephen Baker of the NPD Group said that the laptops had accounted for 3.3% of all back-to-school sales in the U.S., with sales of about 175,000 units between from June 30 and Sept. 7.

Many of Microsoft's OEMs have at least experimented with Chromebooks. Hewlett-Packard, for example, introduced a $279 11-in. Chromebook just days before HP CEO Meg Whitman knocked Microsoft as an "outright competitor." Thursday, Acer unveiled a similarly-sized Chromebook at the even lower price of $249.

While no one is calling Google's Chrome OS a threat to Windows, the fact that OEMs have shifted to a multi-OS stance must give Microsoft pause, at the very least.

Microsoft will report its third-quarter earnings on Oct. 24 starting at 2:30 p.m. PT when it kicks off a conference all with reporters and Wall Street analysts.


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