Custom PC builder says vast majority of customers are still picking Windows 7

Ah, the good old days: The familiar Windows 7 desktop.

What happens when PC buyers have the option to avoid Windows 8? Upwards of 80 percent of them go with Windows 7.

That, at least, is what’s happening at Puget Systems, an independent PC builder in the Seattle area specializing in high-performance machines. As detailed overnight on the company’s blog, the overwhelming majority of its customers are, so far, avoiding the potentially uncomfortable newness of Windows 8 and going instead with the reliable familiarity of Windows 7.

The PC builder plans to “sell Windows 7 alongside Windows 8 for as long as Microsoft will commit to sell and support it,” writes Brett Nordquist, the company’s customer service specialist.

That could be a while: Mainstream support for Windows 7 is set to end in 2015, although Microsoft hasn’t yet said when it will put a stop to actual sales.

It’s an interesting case study that provides clues, at least, to how Windows 8 is doing. The PC builder’s experience adds to the evidence that initial sales of Windows 8 are lukewarm.

I followed up via email with Jon Bach, the Puget Systems president and University of Washington alum who started the company in his parents’ basement. One of my questions: Does he think his customers are representative of the broader PC market in their preference so far for Windows 7?

Chart by Puget Systems, reprinted with permission.

Bach answered, “I believe our numbers are representative of the high performance computing market. The great thing about our numbers is they are entirely customer driven. We offer both options, answer any questions the customer may have, and let them decide. The broader PC market is difficult to read. Entry level PC offerings are less controlled by customer demand, and more controlled by however the vendor can squeak out the most margin on the sale (including volume deals with Microsoft).”

He added, “It is pretty difficult to gauge actual consumer preference with those (entry level) PCs. I do think mobile and touch-enabled devices are much more primed for Windows 8. As Microsoft more fully realizes the Windows 8 ecosystem they are building, I think there will be a stronger Windows 8 demand. It is a long term strategy for them.”

But here’s an interesting piece of trivia: Puget Systems is still selling Windows XP machines, as well.

(Side note: You can think of Windows XP, originally released in 2001, as the Queen Elizabeth of the Windows family — sticking around longer than her heirs might prefer. Prince Charles is Windows Vista; William is Windows 7; and the royal baby is Windows 8. The parallels are eerie. And yes, I read too much People magazine.)

So how is Puget Systems still selling Windows XP? Bach explains that they use downgrade rights — selling the customer a Windows 7 Professional license, then installing Window XP and activating it manually over the phone. 

“Windows XP actively sold in PCs for nearly 9 years, and even today we’re installing XP on a handful of systems a month — 11 years later!” Bach writes.

He doesn’t think Windows 7 will be around as long, but clearly it won’t be going away anytime soon.

  • Guest

    Not surprising if they don’t sell a touch system. Without touch support, W8 doesn’t really bring a lot to the party that W7 didn’t.

    • http://blog.nordquist.org Brett Nordquist

      We actually do sell a nice Acer touchscreen, but until prices come down well under $500 for the screen, it could be a tougher sell.

  • Guest

    I wonder whether it’s just plain unfamiliarity or rather a resentment of the new UI for most of the customers who opt for Windows 7. The former could be overcome over time, while the latter would be a real problem for Microsoft.

  • tom-rnt

    I built a computer for my dad last week. There is no way I was going to put Windows 8 on that. I have enough trouble supporting the parents with Windows XP!
    I’m not creating more annoying work than I need to.

    • http://blog.nordquist.org Brett Nordquist

      I can only imagine the number of support calls I’d receive if I took the START menu away from my father. :-)

      • tom-rnt

        I did split the hard drive into 2 partitions and installed Linux Mint 14 on the other side as a refreshing option. Will dad ever try something other than the default OS when Grub shows up at boot? Nah….when your boots are sunk in the gunk, you can’t pull them out easily without getting your socks dirty! :-D

  • Forrest Corbett

    I upgraded one of my machines to Windows 8 and am considering rolling it back. They nerfed some things and that makes it much more difficult to use and unstable, for this specific machine’s purpose. (One item is I want the old hibernate back, and can’t seem to get it.) There’s also still plenty of applications that don’t work with Windows 8. But I have another machine that I’m going to upgrade to Windows 8 soon, and I will probably keep it there. It’s all about the intended use… at least for me.

  • jepping

    I wonder how many people know that Windows 8 desktop outperforms Windows 7 handily. Much shorter boot times (3 seconds if your hardware supports it), apps launch much faster, apps perform much faster, 8 is even more reliable and stable than 7.

    It’s unfortunate that this key attribute of Windows 8 does not get marketed (or even shown in ads) by Microsoft or emphasized by system builders (i visited one last week who didn’t think it was important enough to mention when comparing the two).

    I am using Windows 8 on a 4 year old HP tower. I can attest that 8 has improved the performance so much of my old machine that I will never got back to 7. Mostly, I use Lightroom for my photo editing work, with Outlook and Firefox and Word. It handles all of these simultaneously so much smoother and faster than 7. It bothers me to no end that Microsoft can’t communicate this amazing progress.

    • Guest

      Probably because most people don’t really care how fast they boot up into a confusing UX.

  • http://twitter.com/StonetipApps Stonetip (Jon)

    No doubt and no surprise that Win8 sales aren’t stronger, but this seems a specialized market. I recently built a workstation (6-core i7/64 Gb RAM) for testing geo-processing apps. They’re written in C#/.NET 4.5 and technically would run just as well or better under Win8. But my client won’t be upgrading any time soon so I need to use what they’re using in-house.