Those two facets came into sharp relief in the latest quarter, when Surface sales suffered while Microsoft's own Windows licensing customers prospered. Surface revenue declined 26 per cent to $831 million, its lowest tally in a year. Meanwhile, the overall PC industry staged a slight comeback, notching a 0.6 per cent gain in shipments for the first time in years, according to IDC.
That helped drive Microsoft's Windows licensing revenue up 5 per cent this quarter.
Effectively, Microsoft lost in Surface sales, but it gained in Windows licensing.
It has always been part of Microsoft's Surface strategy to release flagship models that goad the rest of the PC industry to improve its products, said Microsoft investor relations director Zack Moxcey.
He said competition from PC makers selling lower-priced hardware, along with some Surface hardware nearing time for an upgrade, led to the lower Surface sales.
"It's definitely about driving the health and performance of the broader windows ecosystem," Moxcey said.
Buried in the supplemental information Microsoft provides investors, there was further silver lining. The company said sales of Windows licenses destined for consumer PCs was down 1 per cent, but revenue for more lucrative Windows licenses for business and educational computers was up 10 per cent.
Moxcey said this was attributable to sales of higher-priced machines, especially for businesses. "That carries a higher revenue-per-license for us," he said.
The data fits with Dell's latest results, as the PC maker's sales of computers to businesses rose 11.6 per cent year over year to $6.6 billion in its last quarter, versus 8.5 per cent growth for consumer PCs.
Rebounding sales of Windows PCs to schools and businesses is a boon for Microsoft, which is staking its comeback on business and productivity software.
And higher Windows revenue per licence means that the Surface strategy - to pull the PC industry back upmarket with expensive flagship machines after a years-long race to the bottom on prices - might be getting some traction.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)