By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
November 6, 2009

Microsoft moved a lot of install disks, but hardware makers got a bigger bump two years ago

When Microsoft (MSFT) launches a new operating system, as it did two weeks ago, PC manufacturers like Hewlett Packard (HPQ), Dell (DELL) and Acer are supposed to reap the benefits. And everything seemed to be in place on Thursday Oct. 22 for that to happen.

“Never before has the industry launched such a variety of new form factors, price points, technology upgrades, and design innovations at one time,” wrote NPD’s Stephen Baker just before Windows 7’s release. “This past weekend I happened by a Best Buy store and there was not one single PC for sale with Vista on it. Lots of Windows 7 machines, however, all of which were marked ‘not for sale until October 22.’ Someone did a great job in the supply chain making this happen. This will give Win 7 a tremendous boost out of the gate.” (link)

Two weeks later, Baker is singing a different tune. Microsoft got a big boost according to NPD’s weekly tracking data, racking up sales of Windows 7 that were 234% higher than Vista’s during its first few days of sales. (More on that below the fold.)

But PC makers didn’t make out quite as well. Although they had a relatively strong week, with unit sales up 49% year over year and 95% from the week before, it was nothing like Vista’s launch in Feb. 2007. Then, sales soared 68% year over year and 170% from the week before.

In a press release issued Thursday, Baker explained what happened:

“A combination of factors impacted Windows 7 PC sales at the outset,” Baker wrote.  “Vista had a slight advantage at launch, as January traditionally has a bigger sales footprint than October.  The other hurdle Windows 7 faced was sales of PCs with older operating systems (XP and Vista) were high, making up 20 percent of sales during the Windows 7 launch, compared to just 6 percent of older operating sales during Vista’s launch week.”

Another thing to remember about that Vista launch week is that it set a relatively low bar. Retail Vista sales were considerably below Microsoft’s forecast — almost 60% lower than sales of Windows XP during its first week in 2001.

Ironically, it was the computer manufacturers who did best in Feb. 2007. Sales of new PCs with Vista pre-installed were up 67% the week that Vista launched compared with the same week in 2006.

Apple (AAPL), of course, sells both OS X and the Macs that run it, so when it launched Snow Leopard in August, it made money on both sides of the deal.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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