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Windows 8 fails to spur boom in computer buying

Economy, new design hamper Microsoft sales

Shoppers in a Seattle Microsoft store checked out Surface tablets in October. Windows 8 sales have been slow so far.

Elaine Thompson/Associated PRess/File 2012

Shoppers in a Seattle Microsoft store checked out Surface tablets in October. Windows 8 sales have been slow so far.

BELLEVUE, Wash. — It used to be that a new version of the Windows operating system was enough to get people excited about buying a new computer, giving sales a nice pop.

Not this time. Windows 8, the latest edition of Microsoft’s software, failed to pack shoppers into a Microsoft store in a mall here last week, when parking lots in the area were overflowing. The trickle of shopping bags leaving the store with merchandise was nothing like the steady stream at a bustling Apple store upstairs.

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Claude Ballard was among the customers at the Microsoft store who tried out Surface, a new Microsoft-designed Windows tablet. Ballard, who described himself as a semi-reired computer systems manager for a real estate firm, said he was intrigued by the eye-catching design of Windows 8, but not enough to buy a new computer this year.

‘‘It’s economics, really,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s going to be a better year for my mechanic than it is for me.’’

Weak PC sales this holiday season suggest the struggles of Microsoft and other companies that depend heavily on the computer business will not abate soon. Plenty of consumers already own PCs and seem content to make do with what they have, especially in a shaky economy in which less expensive mobile devices are bidding for a share of what’s in their wallets.

Although there are also many tablets running Microsoft’s new touch-friendly Windows, they have so far failed to emerge from the shadow of competing products from Apple­ and Amazon and other devices that are being snapped up by holiday shoppers.

Emmanuel Fromont, president of the Americas division of Acer, the world’s number four PC maker, said sales of the company’s Windows 8 PCs had been lower than expected. He said one factor was the system’s unfamiliar design, which appeared to be making consumers cautious.

The clearest evidence of Windows 8’s disappointing introduction comes from the research firm NPD, which estimates that sales of Windows machines have actually dropped from a year ago.

According to NPD, stores in the United States sold 13 percent fewer Windows devices from late October, when Windows 8 made its debut, through the first week in December, than in the same period last year.

Those figures do not include sales in Microsoft’s own stores, which were the only place to buy a Surface tablet during that period, but because the stores are scarce, analysts believe it is unlikely they made a big difference.

‘‘I think everybody would have hoped for a better start,’’ said Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD. ‘‘The thing is, this market is not the same market that Windows 7 or Vista or even XP launched into.’’

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