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Windows 7 sales topped Vista in first weeks, but economy still a drag on PC sales

November 6, 2009 |  1:14 pm

Windows 7 It wasn't a high bar, but Windows 7 made it.

Consumer retail sales of Microsoft's newest computer operating system topped those of Vista by 234% on a unit basis within the first few days of launching on Oct. 22, according to a report released this morning by the NPD Group. (The report did not include sales to businesses and large organizations.)

That Windows 7 would do better than Vista is not too surprising. Critical buzz for Windows 7 was relatively positive and largely void of the savage language that reviewers heaped on Vista when it launched in January 2007.

This time around, Microsoft also attempted to woo reluctant buyers with discounts and specials, such as a 50% discount on a copy of the software when buyers spring for a new PC, or a free upgrade from Vista for those who bought a PC after June 26.

"We definitely saw the results of aggressive pricing," said Stephen Baker, NPD's computer software analyst. 

Though helpful for pushing volume, the discounts may have crimped Microsoft's overall revenue from the product. (The NPD report is mum on the sales impact on Microsoft's topline.)

The fly in everyone's ointment, of course, has been the economy. With consumers making do with their old computers or opting for ultra-cheap netbooks, average PC prices have dropped around 20% since last year, Baker said.

While unit sales of Windows 7 software were up in the first days of launch over Vista, sales of computers with Windows 7 were actually down 4% compared with sales of Vista-based computers when Vista launched. The comparison is not a fair one, Baker cautioned, because Vista launched in a January, when PC sales tend to do better, and Windows 7 launched in October, one of the slowest months for PC sales.

Still, the gruesome economy may have helped Windows 7 sales in one respect, according to Richard Shim, a PC analyst with IDC.

"Usually upgrades are not very popular. People have tended to buy new PCs when new operating systems come out," Shim said. "Windows 7 seems to be an exception. One reason is that it can work well with older computers because it's designed to be streamlined."

In other words, instead of spending $500 for a new computer, some consumers are springing for the $120 to $220 Windows 7 upgrade and souping up their old machines.

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.