On Microsoft’s Windows 8 and the evolving definition of the PC industry

In the wake of the latest numbers about the PC industry — third-quarter shipments declined, and IHS iSuppli says PC shipments could fall this year, for the first time in 11 years, let’s take a look at Microsoft, which is scheduled to release Windows 8 on Oct. 26. Windows 8, the company’s newest operating system, has the potential to bring PCs out of their slump. It also could shake up the definition of the PC industry.

Microsoft is introducing a radically different OS, one that attempts to marry the traditional PC interface with the increasingly popular tablet experience. This means a couple of key things, writes ZDNet’s Larry Dignan: 1. Potential confusion, because there will be many different form factors, from PCs to tablets to PC-tablet hybrids to a yet-to-be-created species. 2. Adoption could take time. People will need time to play with the new form factors and check out Windows 8. There will be a learning curve.

There’s also the risk of some of the form factors cannibalizing the others. If people like Windows 8 tablets, it could worsen the PC slump. Hasten the demise of the PC-pocalypse and the rise of the post-PC world, the one with the smartphones and the tablets and the devices that are used for personal computing but don’t look like traditional computers.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is talking about “a fundamental shift” for the company: Windows 8 won’t just be an OS, it will be a platform. In a letter to shareholders this week, Ballmer said the company plans to use Windows “across the PC, tablet, phone, server and cloud to drive a thriving ecosystem of developers, unify the cross-device user experience.” It will do hardware.

Some are pointing out that Microsoft is going with an Apple-like approach, although one huge difference is that Microsoft says it will continue to work with manufacturing partners to give its customers a choice when it comes to hardware. But that’s beside the point, which is that it seems like all the big companies are doing this. From Apple to Google to Amazon, and now to Microsoft, platform’s the word. They’re all doing software and hardware and the cloud. Hewlett-Packard, which research firm Garner said was dethroned by Lenovo as the world’s top seller of PCs, is getting back into tablets and smartphones.

So when the world’s largest software maker talks platform and the launch of its new OS/platform is on the horizon, the lines between PCs and other computing devices will continue to get blurrier. When you look at it that way, the “PC” world isn’t in such deep trouble after all. The research firms of the world will have to adjust to the shift.


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  • RedRat

    If this version of Windows plays out like previous ones, it should be one to skip. Windows 7 was a vast improvement on Vista. Windows XP was a vast improvement over Windows 98. Since Win8 is supposed to be so ground breaking, I imagine it will be filled with glitches, hardly avoidable in any OS, so many may want to skip it.

    People will soon find out that tablets do not replace desktop/laptops, especially if you need to do real work beyond surfing and emails. Basically tablets and smartphones find their primary utility in providing entertainment to the user–although requiring real computing power, these devices are just not going to replacements for desktop/laptop computers, at least in this iteration.

  • sd

    RedRat, I’m not so sure about that. A couple of years ago, we replaced my wife’s laptop with an iPad. Yes, it is used primarily for entertainment. Yes, she also has a separate work-issued (Windows) laptop she can use. Yes, she works in a non-technical field.

    But she has the iPad set so that she can VPN in to work, check work email, and do real word processing and spreadsheets on her iPad. The biggest limitation is the virtual keyboard, and there are plenty of Bluetooth keyboards available if she wanted to work more on the iPad.

    A tablet may not replace a laptop in every case, but I think it will in more situations than you think.

  • geocatherder

    I still maintain that one should never buy a new Windows OS until the second service pack is released.

  • I have been using Windows 8 as my primary OS for the past year. And it’s been delightful. You don’t have to choose between touch or a keyboard, you can have both and mix easily between them. When I use a keyboard I typically have an external monitor, too — very nice, very productive. When I use a mouse I have software that works well with a mouse, unlike other tablets.

    When I want to lean back and enjoy my GMSV without a keyboard, I can do that, too, with a fun, fast, and colorful interface.

    Bottom line, I only need one device, not two. This is going to sell like hotcakes.

  • LGM

    The trouble with Windows 8 is it’s still “Windows” after years of being trapped in the Microsoft grip on the business market i grew tired of low quality “me too” crap. I have now successfully moved my business operation onto a mixed platform of Apple | Android hardware as well as Google Docs and other SAAS solutions; my business is more productive, has way cooler hardware, and it doesn’t miss Windows one little bit. To Redrat’s point, I still have a laptop and desktop as well as a tablet and smart phone – each play a specific role, I can quickly view and edit Google docs on the go with the tablet, a fully fledged and portable application set on the MacBook Pro, and quad core power on the desktop when I need some serious processing. I don’t want a single device because there will always be a compromise. After all a 4×4 truck can’t deliver the same as a Ferrari – and vice-versa, but either one will get you from A to B if that’s all you want to do.

  • One of the awesome things about Microsoft’s great year is the complete reversal in position between Apple and Microsoft. Now, my Windows Phone is “way cooler” than my coworker’s iPhones and Android phones.

    @LGM, when you say “I don’t want a single device”, it seems you mean “I can’t *have* a single device — from Apple”. Of course none of us will go to a single device, but many of us will need just one fewer in our collection when we use Win 8.

  • Windows 7 is so ugly and bad that Windows 8 can only be worse. One of the absolute rules of software development is to NOT remove existing functionality from users. The fact that Microsoft can do so for hundreds of millions of users shows not that they are that well liked – it shows that they have a monopoly that badly needs to be broken up.

  • @dale thorn: I am confused. Are you complaining that win 8 changed (because the metro side is no longer “ugly win 7”) or that it didn’t change enough (because you still have all of your win 7 functionality in the desktop side)?

    Sorry you are so upset with Apple’s removing Google maps functionality for hundreds of millions of users. This proves they are not well liked, and are a monopoly that should be broken up. (jk)

    Never removing functionality is called *legacy*, and always interferes with clean new functionality. Win 8 is a new UI, free of legacy, that still has access to the legacy apps on the desktop side. It’s tough to provide both, I think Microsoft found a pretty good balance.