Steve Ballmer: "Nobody ever buys Windows. They buy Windows PCs."

Retiring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer conducted an extensive interview with noted journalist Mary Jo Foley in late November, and parts of that chat have already been posted by on both ZDNet and CNN Fortune. This week, Foley had yet another section of that conversation published on ZDNet and this one focused on Microsoft's increased push into selling Windows-based hardware products.

During the chat, Ballmer said, "Nobody ever buys Windows. They buy Windows PCs." It's a statement that may be surprising to hear coming from the leader of the company that has marketed and sold various versions of the operating system as a product on its own until the launch of the first Surface tablet, the Surface RT, over a year ago.

Microsoft's experience with creating the Xbox helped in some ways with developing and making the first Surface products, according to Ballmer, thanks to the fact that the Xbox required that the company create a team to handle the supply chain efforts. However, many OEMs were not happy that Microsoft was entering the PC hardware space for the first time. Ballmer claims that the company had to start making its own PCs, stating, "I was concerned that we had areas of vulnerability in competing with Apple and without any (first-party) capability, that we were not transacting that well just through our OEM partners."

Ballmer says that Microsoft still needs "to upgrade and improve" in terms of its PC hardware and that's part of the reason why the company decided to buy Nokia's Devices and Services division. However, Ballmer stated he was unable to go into details about that acquisition due to the fact that it has yet to officially close. The close is expected to happen sometime in the first quarter of 2014, perhaps after Ballmer officially departs as CEO.

Source: ZDNet | Image via Microsoft

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Well I've never bought a new PC with Windows pre-installed!

Starting back with Windows 3.0 I have upgraded each time (except Vista) by buying a physical disk and installing it myself on a home built PC. This year I bought Windows 8 as a download as the £25 offer was to good to miss, but I'd rather have had a physical disk. Mind you with the way Win8 keeps messing up and needing reinstalling I may still go back to Win7!

The same goes for several other people I know in real life, who aren't particularly 'techy'.

MS just needs to justify it's change in policy which is really all about money not giving people what they want.

Nobody is all inclusive. nearly everyone i know including myself, has bought either a boxed or OEM copy of Windows more than once. Personally I bought 95, 98, 98se (big mistake) 2000, XP, 7 and 8. My friends as well as myself, we build our own PC's and do not buy cheaply built, overpriced OEM garbage.

I bought five Win8 Upgrades, which can be used for clean installs (luckily). Those were used on machines I built myself or older laptops etc.

in general... people who build windows PC's 'get' Windows 7 afterwards to install on it as Win8 just ain't worth using on a desktop PC.

If that was or is a true statement, then why didn't Microsoft make a Windows UI suitable for the hardware onto which it was to be installed? Hint: one OS UI for tablets and smartphones, and one OS UI for laptops and desktops. Windows-8 botched that one.

TsarNikky said,
If that was or is a true statement, then why didn't Microsoft make a Windows UI suitable for the hardware onto which it was to be installed? Hint: one OS UI for tablets and smartphones, and one OS UI for laptops and desktops. Windows-8 botched that one.

Positively yawnsome

This is the problem with taking quotes out of context. The original articles has the context which is about the marketing, devices classes, and the reasoning behind getting away from the 100% OEM model. It's not about if you're buying a PC with Windows pre-installed or not.

I've never purchased a retail windows license.

I rarely buy OEM pcs.

I DO buy OEM aka systembuilder license when each new OS is released.

Do I get lumped into the category that "people buy PCs, not windows" simply because it's an OEM license?

I buy Windows. For the last 3 versions it has brought performance increase, improved stability and additional security. It brings new life to hardware and delays the need in many cases for buying a new PC.

But ofcourse he is right, most people are lazy or afraid they will screw their PC up.

I believe some commenter's here forget that he has the sales figures.

He obviously doesn't mean that not a single standalone licence was sold.

I believe some commenters here forget that these forums or tech forums in general, represent a very small fraction of buyers.

FloatingFatMan said,
Nobody, huh?

I've never bought a pre-built PC in my life, not a desktop. Never will.

that is why there is not a Surface Desktop computer.. Desktops are becoming such a small part of the overall market of sales..

Yes I too build my own PCs as do many of the people on this site, that said, the vast majority just buy a PC with whatever it comes with at the time. Funny how he ended the debate so many here were wrong about over the years. Enjoy.

Randomevent said,
I buy Windows PCs! I just happen to build them myself.

Exactly. This is where everyone else here is missing the point. It doesn't matter if you build it yourself (here's a high five if you need one). The point is that your awesome hardware isn't a PC until it has Windows on it at which point you've bought and built a Windows PC. Windows by itself is useless.

Xenosion said,

Exactly. This is where everyone else here is missing the point. It doesn't matter if you build it yourself (here's a high five if you need one). The point is that your awesome hardware isn't a PC until it has Windows on it at which point you've bought and built a Windows PC. Windows by itself is useless.

Very true =). However, my parents bought a copy of windows 8 they have yet to use. Always "too busy" for me to upgrade their laptop from Vista to 8.1. So I guess one person bought windows and not a windows pc . Yet anyways. Hoping to upgrade them soon because, as you pointed out, windows by itself it pretty useless =).

Xenosion said,

Exactly. This is where everyone else here is missing the point. It doesn't matter if you build it yourself (here's a high five if you need one). The point is that your awesome hardware isn't a PC until it has Windows on it at which point you've bought and built a Windows PC. Windows by itself is useless.

It has an OS, Windows, or whatever else you will be able to install.

Like this comment if your one of those people who bought a retail copy of windows.

I got windows xp home and pro, 2 different retail version of vista, also copy of windows 7 pro.
So it looks like ballmer likes to lie about everything.

I bought Windows 7 to upgrade the XP systems in my house back in 2009, and last year Windows 8 to upgrade my Win 7 laptop.

Most of the time though, I've gotten it with the new system. Generally fewer compatibility concerns that way.

Snake89 said,
Like this comment if your one of those people who bought a retail copy of windows.

Came from youtube?

obviously. it's the same with android too. it just comes with whatever you buy and not an actual choice for the vast majority of people. it's a great model.

Windows and Android isn't the best comparison to make. Considering I can't just take my Lumia 925 and install Android on it. I can however take my desktop and install Windows, Linux or even OS X if I want to dive back into the hackintosh group.

Grinch said,
Windows and Android isn't the best comparison to make. Considering I can't just take my Lumia 925 and install Android on it. I can however take my desktop and install Windows, Linux or even OS X if I want to dive back into the hackintosh group.

Yeah, I'm not much liking the direction this is going... only being able use what OS came with the device, at least officially.

My Surface Pro 1 is one of the best PC related pieces of hardware I have ever bought in my 30 years of being into IT/gadgets. Over a year later I still use it for hours each day.

I'm glad MS decided to step up and make high quality devices based on windows.

Uh, I have yet to buy a "Windows PC". I build PCs, then buy Windows as a stand-alone product; and have done that for over a decade.

Thanks for reminding us why it's a good thing you're leaving Microsoft, Ballmer.

Would've been better to say "most" really but whatever. It's not like Steve Ballmer comes to mind when I think of great public speakers.

Yes yes, thousands of people build PC's, yes thousands of businesses buy windows as a standalone but think about how many millions of users buy a machine off the shelf.

I mean, I build my machines, but I also bought a laptop, so technically I'm part of the statistic that overshadows everything. Like it or not, Ballmer is right, nobody really buys "windows"

In the same note, nobody ever buys OSX

He said so to emphasize his point about how the hardware matters . And why they decided to do the surface. Read the whole interview without throwing a fit people.

spacer said,
Uh, I have yet to buy a "Windows PC". I build PCs, then buy Windows as a stand-alone product; and have done that for over a decade.

Thanks for reminding us why it's a good thing you're leaving Microsoft, Ballmer.


applying context isn't hard he was obviously over emphasising the point, as the CEO of the company he will be very aware of the numbers of retail and OEM versions sold, so he obviously didn't literally mean 'no one' - people do it all the time to provide emphasis. Its not a big deal.

Dot Matrix said,
I buy Windows. I haven't bought an OEM machine in a decade.

Same, last one I bought off the shelf that wasn't a laptop or tablet was in the early 90's... but I'd suspect he's talking about the "average consumer", who typically wouldn't deal with doing it themselves.

Mr. Hand said,
He doesn't literally mean nobody. It's rhetorical.

Well it's a stupid thing to say. I happen to be one of those who buy windows as well and while sure we're a minority we also happen to be early adopters and influential to our friends/family about what products to get. Saying "nobody" like that is essentially MS telling us that we're insignificant. He can't be gone soon enough.

Yes people who are buying windows as it is , is insignificant unfortunately. He said so to emphasize his point. Of course they be happy if everyone bought the boxed product. That's pure profit.

Dot Matrix said,
I buy Windows. I haven't bought an OEM machine in a decade.

Yeah, seems the comment leaves out all the DYI windows users. Laptops are the only OEM machines I've ever bought for myself, and I don't do that very often....

Mr.XXIV said,
I did hate OEMs with a passion. Still do.

Like, seriously, HP, stfu with WildTangent.

that is probably the best part about Windows RT... No bloatware ever

Lachlan said,

that is probably the best part about Windows RT... No bloatware ever


RT has other advantages too. probably the most secure OS ever built. Have never heard of any malware or virus on it. Its fast and reliable. has far less crash rate as compared to other tablet OS. apps collection still missing many apps due to poor planning and lack of motivation for big developers but getting better little by little.

Lachlan said,

that is probably the best part about Windows RT... No bloatware ever

But also its greatest weakness... the inability to install anything outside of store apps. Which means also sorts of good gets thrown out with the bad... alternate browsers, runtime enviroments like Java, etc, all of which could be recompiled for ARM if Microsoft would allow it.

domboy said,

But also its greatest weakness... the inability to install anything outside of store apps. Which means also sorts of good gets thrown out with the bad... alternate browsers, runtime enviroments like Java, etc, all of which could be recompiled for ARM if Microsoft would allow it.


for this argument to make sense, you'd have to provide examples of how the same thing hurt iPad and android tablet sales, oh wait......

_Alexander said,
People don't need anything outside the store.
People do need developers to get of their arses and start developing Windows applications.

Yeah, but your first comment makes sense only if the second one comes true. I own a Surface RT since day 1 and have got frustrated at how many app developers have flatly refused to develop ARM versions despite my earnest entreaties. Perhaps they're right - why develop for an OS with a tiny user-base and more importantly one that's in flux (given the planned merger with WP)? What's the use of the hardware if I can't do what I want with it? I bought into the concept early but the app situation sadly hasn't panned out as I expected, so as of now it is not much more than a costly tablet for browsing the net. Can't even jailbreak Windows RT 8.1. How I wish I could somehow install Win8.1 or Linux on it! I'm gonna toss it in the trash soon and get myself a Win8.1/iOS/Android tablet instead. At least those have the apps I want, today.

_Alexander said,
People don't need anything outside the store.
People do need developers to get of their arses and start developing Windows applications.

Problem with statement is that it ignores the fact that there are many MANY windows applications that already exist outside of the store model, and there is very little need or incentive to spend the time and money to completely rewrite them from scratch for the WinRT API just for the small number of devices running Windows RT. With Windows 8 however you can install and run just about whatever you want. If Microsoft would allow third-party access to the rest of the Windows APIs that do in fact exists in Windows RT (win32, .NET, etc), developers could probably recompile most of their current software for ARM without too much effort. But that isn't the direction Microsoft is trying to push things (Modern UI)... so Windows RT is sort of stuck in a weird place. The jailbreak for RT 8.0 really helped make it more useful for me, and I'm hopeful we'll see one for RT 8.1 in the near future. But that is still limited to opensource software.

This is why Windows RT has failed in my opinion. It's sad really... Windows on ARM could have been so much better, but Microsoft really shot it in the foot from the get go.

Edited by domboy, Dec 19 2013, 5:51pm :

I think they made the right decision as allowing legacy software would have also brought with it the security concerns that most people I know cite as a big reason for using an iPad or similar - no more 'computer knackered simply by visiting a website that's been infected' nonsense and being tricked to install browser toolsbars etc.

I don't fall for this, but I'm not the majority, the majority want the OS to protect them and make it easy to find apps they want to use, the only way to do this is via a store and approval of apps that can be installed.

Its just taking a while to find traction, because of the reasons you cited amongst others.