Dell last week again blamed Windows 8 for contributing to a decline in PC sales revenue during the quarter that ended May 3.
"Windows 8 has been, from our standpoint, not necessarily the catalyst to drive accelerated growth that we had hoped it would be," said Brian Gladden, Dell's CFO, in a call last week with Wall Street analysts to discuss the quarter's financials.
Gladden's convoluted syntax aside, this was the second time that Dell pushed Windows 8 under the bus.
In March, Dell blamed the OS for its financial woes in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), part of an effort by CEO Michael Dell to take the company private. "The difficult environment faced by the Company as a result of its underperformance relative to a number of its competitors [includes] ... the uncertain adoption of the Windows 8 operating system," Dell said then.
That underperformance was evident in Dell's newest numbers.
Revenue from sales of PCs, third-party software and peripherals -- what Dell calls End-User Computing, or EUC -- was down 9% from the same period a year before. Desktop revenue was off 2%, while what Dell dubs "Mobility," or notebooks and tablets, was down 16% year-over-year.
But Gladden had hope that sales will improve later in the year. Although he didn't cite Windows 8.1 by name, he alluded to the update Microsoft will preview next month and reportedly launch in October. "We are encouraged by what's going to play out with new chipsets and some of the work that is going on within the Windows ecosystem, to hopefully, over the next few months, create some catalysts," Gladden said.
At the same time, he also dashed cold water on the near future. "But you look at the recent external data from any of the third-party sources, we would expect to continue to see over the next few quarters year-over-year declines in PC demand," Gladden said, referring to projections by the likes of IDC and Gartner that PC shipments -- and thus sales -- would continue to suffer as consumers and businesses alike buy smartphones and tablets rather than new personal computers.
One analyst suspected that Dell's guarded optimism -- expressed by Gladden's limitation of the problem to "the next few quarters" -- might be misplaced.
"The investment community as a whole may not yet be negative enough on PCs for a variety of reasons, [for example] persistent 'hope' for growth from Windows 8 touch models, emerging markets, pent-up demand for upgrades, [and so on]," said Brian Marshall, an analyst with the ISI Group, in a note to clients last week. "While it is too drastic to assign zero value to Dell's PC business, we are of the belief that PCs have much further to go in a long-term secular decline before eventually leveling out and following more cyclical patterns."
Marshall thought that PC shipments could decline as much as 10% to 20% over the next three to five years before stabilizing.
Dell's Gladden also mentioned upgrades to Windows 7 -- by Microsoft's estimate, a third of enterprise computers still run the 12-year-old Windows XP -- as a ray of hope. "I think you continue to see Windows 7 [upgrades] on the commercial side of the business," Gladden said. "It's driving a refresh cycle."
That flew in the face of earlier Dell assertions: In the March filing with the SEC, Dell said "unexpected slowdowns in enterprise Windows 7 upgrades" was another contributor to its poor PC sales performance.
While some analysts have predicted that the last-minute rush to push Windows XP out the door will boost PC sales in 2013, most believe that migrations have little chance of shaking the industry out of its funk. "Replacements for Windows XP won't be enough to offset the declines on the consumer side," said David Daoud, an analyst with IDC, in an interview last month.
Windows 8.1, which critics have characterized as a retreat - or at best, a relaunch - of Windows 8 forced by the operating system's lackluster sales, and which Microsoft has said is evolutionary and a response to customer feedback, will probably have little to no impact on corporate PC purchases, the part of the market where Dell is strongest, as corporations will largely shun the OS.
Nonetheless, Gladden reiterated Dell's support for Windows, following previous statements by the company that it won't abandon Windows 8 or Microsoft's tablet-oriented offshoot, Windows RT. "It becomes a broader opportunity around touch and how that plays out in the corporate customer base, whether it's tablets or whether it's the next-generation Windows 8 kind of devices," said Gladden. "So, again, it's really up to us to create that opportunity and that ecosystem to drive that growth going forward."
In the first calendar quarter of 2013, Dell was the world's third-largest PC seller, according to IDC, which estimated the Round Rock, Texas company shipped 9 million systems in that period, about 11% fewer than the same quarter of 2012.
This article, Dell replays Windows 8 blame card as PC sales slide, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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