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Dell replays Windows 8 blame card as PC sales slide

Gregg Keizer | May 20, 2013
Dell last week again blamed Windows 8 for contributing to a decline in PC sales revenue during the quarter that ended May 3.

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."


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