Why all this talk of Windows being 'hurt' isn't quite what it seems


So apparently Windows, Microsoft's operating system, is being hurt by the ongoing systemic drop in PC sales worldwide.

That headline grabbing conclusion stems from one line in yesterday's earnings release from Microsoft.

It read: "Windows OEM revenue declined 2% in constant currency, outperforming the PC market, driven by higher consumer premium device mix."

In other words, Windows is almost flatlining rather than collapsing like the traditional PC market and that's because people are buying expensive computers, which carry a paid-for Windows license, rather than cheap ones that come with a free Windows license.

Sure, there is a massive $1.5 billion revenue deferral over the last quarter related to Windows 10 and mobile phones are continuing to lose money but that was expected. So, it is not all bad news.

Revenues from Microsoft's Surface family, search advertising revenue and the Xbox range are growing at breakneck speed, double digits for both of them.

Buried in the results are more good news though (at least for the Personal Computing division of Microsoft): Profits and margins are actually growing.

For the quarter's end, revenue is almost flat but operating income (profit) is actually up by a staggering 57%, despite the mess that is Windows Phone and despite the free licenses doled out.

Over the nine-month period ending 31 March 2016, computing outperformed the two other business units with an impressive 27% growth year-on-year.

Phones, still a sore point

The only dark spot on the balance sheet is the phone revenue which was almost halved year-on-year, a clear indication that things may not be working as expected.

The company has come to the realisation perhaps that there's more to personal computing than just computers, the traditional ones we've grown up with (at least us, pre-millennials).

Never before in the history of personal computing has there been such a flurry of different form factors. From smartwatches to augmented reality visors, VR headsets and dongles, personal computers have evolved beyond recognition and that's just evolution.

Just like the minis replaced mainframes and were then superseded by microcomputers, the same Darwinian process is taking place with traditional computers.

Phones, Games consoles, 2-in-1, AR headsets are all part of what would qualify as personal computers and it is their very versatility that makes them so compelling in our daily lives.

No, if you want to look for a cause for concern, check out the other verticals, productivity and business processes and intelligent cloud, both of which saw revenue grow quarter-on-quarter but saw profitability shrink. A lot.

Now that's worrying because growing revenue and shrinking income for Microsoft means that margins are melting even faster (50% to 46% for productivity, 43% to 36% for the cloud).

Not very good when so much of Microsoft's long term survival is pegged on cloud services.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.