iMac survey shows switchover signs

In a small survey, one retailer found that 13 percent of iMac buyers were replacing a Windows-based computer.

If trends at a California retailer bear out nationwide, the iMac may be succeeding in an area that far overshadows the machine itself: the defection of PC users to the Apple camp.

ComputerWare, the nation's largest Mac-only retailer, conducted a survey of 500 new iMac customers and found that 13 percent of the customers were replacing a Windows-based computer.

Additionally, Apple may have hit the mark with first-time buyers. The survey, which was conducted by Los Gatos, California, market research firm Market Metrics, said the iMac was the first computer for nearly 15 percent of the customers.

See special report: Apple's gambit Analysts have postulated that the iMac is going to be a tough sell beyond the Mac's aficionados in any large numbers. But the survey, although based on a relatively small sample, provides a hint that Apple has a good chance to expand its user base by selling to new customers in addition to its current installed base.

Indeed, assuming this trend continues and the percentages hold up, if Apple sells 400,000 iMacs by the end of the year--which is at the lower end of analyst estimates--that would translate into about 50,000 units shipped to "converted" Windows users. If first-time buyers are included, that would jump to 120,000 users who have been won over to the Macintosh.

By contrast, Apple's fastest selling system was the G3 Macintosh, which shipped 133,000 units in just under two months, mostly to its installed base. Such growth in new markets is essential for the long-term health of the Macintosh platform.

So far, the system is selling briskly. Many retailers reported complete sell-outs of the iMac, and many took orders for iMacs scheduled for delivery this weekend and beyond.

National computer retailer CompUSA has reportedly sold "thousands" of iMacs since last week's launch, although the company has not offered specific sales numbers.