Software // Operating Systems
Commentary
1/17/2013
11:51 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
Commentary
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What PC Makers Must Do Now

PC makers, licking their wounds after a poor start to the Windows 8 era and still under siege from tablets and smartphones, must re-tool for the new normal.

10 Great Windows 8 Apps
10 Great Windows 8 Apps
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The early returns are quantifying what most of us already knew: that Windows 8's coming-out was no party. Gartner reports that PC shipments declined nearly 5% in the fourth quarter from the same period last year. IDC estimates that sales fell more than 6%.

So, time to dust off and figure out where to go from here. Three months ago, I pointed to a problem that would hold back fourth-quarter sales: Windows 8's new UI is touch-centric, but there aren't very many systems available with touch. I don't point this out to say I told you so. (Although I did tell you so.) I mention it because it's still a problem.

The percentage of touch-enabled laptops that were shipped in the fourth quarter was miniscule -- less than 1%, according to Digitimes Research. That number is forecasted to grow only to about 10% in 2013.

[ What's the best strategy for Microsoft? Read 5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8. ]

The flip side is that 90% of laptops won't match well with Windows 8. Which means that more disappointing sales are on the horizon.

As I see it, that leaves the PC ecosystem two options if it wants a shot at salvaging 2013: 1) Find a way to reverse that 90:10 ratio, so that the vast majority of systems are touch-enabled, or 2) start marketing non-touch systems to end users.

The sooner the market transitions to touch-enabled displays, the sooner this thorny problem will be behind us. PC makers are still a bit shell-shocked from 2012, so they're understandably gun-shy about investing in 2013. So don't expect them to force the transition to all-touch displays this year.

That leaves us with option number two: showcasing non-touch Windows 8 systems. That might be the right way to go regardless, because there are a lot of end users who are resisting the Modern UI, Windows' new front software interface. They're pining for the good old days of the Start button.

So give it to them.

Windows 8 should default to the Start button on non-touch systems. I know that Microsoft wants to hurry the transition to the Modern UI, but the company needs to accept the fact that it's an annoyance on non-touch systems. Showcase the fact that, Modern UI aside, Windows 8 is better than Windows 7. The PC industry would be well served if that message got out.

Microsoft could still plant a Modern UI icon on the system tray of non-touch PCs. Eventually, consumers will play with it. And as compelling apps emerge, they'll find themselves spending more and more time in the Modern UI. Letting demand grow organically for Modern UI makes much more sense than shoving it down consumers' throats, as Microsoft has been doing. Thus far, consumers have responded to the tactic by spending their money on other things, right? So what is there to lose?

None of this is to say that PC makers should stop designing sexy new systems. Keep the sleek, power-efficient, responsive ultrabooks coming. And make them all touch-enabled.

What's needed now is a two-pronged approach to the market. Keep showing us how cool the touch-enabled systems are. But also show us why we would want a non-touch Windows 8 system.

Up to now, the unspoken message in all the Windows 8 marketing is that there's no reason to buy the non-touch systems. As we've seen thus far, consumers have received that message loud and clear.

Mike Feibus is principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market research firm focusing on client technologies. You can reach him at mikef@feibustech.com.

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moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
1/21/2013 | 5:58:44 PM
re: What PC Makers Must Do Now
And the pedals are in the same place on other OS as well. How come that gazillion of people have no problem using their smartphones and tablets? That vast majority of them does not run anything Windows.
Did you have your mom use Win8? Most of the knowledge she accumulated about Windows is useless on Win8.
bwdolphan
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bwdolphan,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/21/2013 | 4:13:01 PM
re: What PC Makers Must Do Now
Almost everyone reading and responding here pretty much knows their way around technology, so the focus is on the OS.

Remember the early days - you decided what you wanted your computer do do and then bought the appropriate configuration. That axiom has not changed.

The majority of consumers just want to be able to use their software as they have in the past and don't give rat's patootie what operating system is underneath it all. ...until it gets in the way that is.

I bought my wife, who is not a techie, a new laptop with Win8 on it. For her, it was absolutely and completely unusable - until I loaded Classic Shell on it. Even then, there was a small learning curve; one that should have been totally unnecessary.

I have no ax to grind with Microsoft, but geez, don't they consumer test these things with real people?
jqb
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jqb,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/20/2013 | 5:10:09 PM
re: What PC Makers Must Do Now
Mike:
You are dead-on correct. In my own small computer tech business this scenario is exactly what is playing out - Win8 with Classic Shell (or any other) is quite nice, fast, and efficient.Clients that ignored my advice and got Win8 anyway have that look like "The Scream" by Edward Munch until I slap Classic Shell on: after that, happiness ensues.

There is still an issue with the difference between applications and apps, and the heavy-handed "register for your Microsoft account now" aspect, but that is minor compared to the desktop disaster that is the Metro UI (yes, I am still calling it "Metro", just to p-off Microsoft).
Bob Gill
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Bob Gill,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/20/2013 | 1:58:06 AM
re: What PC Makers Must Do Now
Get over it. Windows 7 is awesome and Windows 8 is incredible with the right hardware (including a touch or near touch screen.

Pi's are fine, but the gas pedal is on the right and brake pedal in the middle. My mom knows Windows and she ain't changing.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
1/19/2013 | 11:48:25 AM
re: What PC Makers Must Do Now
What PC makers need to do is invest into alternatives to Windows. Just because Microsoft made a crappy OS should be no reason why PC makers need to close shop. Single vendor strategies consistently fail in various industries, the PC industry is no different. The argument that customers will not accept a Linux based system is just wrong. They happily accept the Android based systems and OS X is based on BSD. The key is to wrap this into a prettier shell and above all create drivers that work reliably.
Given how much a 700MHz Raspberry Pi can do at a cost of 35$ it should be incredible what a 350$ piece of hardware can do....as long as it is not running Windows sucking the life out of it.
kmarko
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kmarko,
User Rank: Strategist
1/18/2013 | 8:39:10 PM
re: What PC Makers Must Do Now
Although you're right that Windows 8 is better than 7, the problem with severing the link between Windows 8 and the Modern UI is that it's not better enough to get most people, and more importantly, most enterprises, to upgrade. I'm wondering if Win8 could be tweaked enough to work with a high-quality, multitouch touchpad like Apple's Magic Trackpad to emulate enough of the touch screen functionality without needing an entirely new screen. Perhaps fork Win8 into a laptop/touchpad optimized version and a pure tablet version. But you're right, Microsoft must make some changes because as is, Win8 certainly isn't lighting the market on fire.
tigger2
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tigger2,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/18/2013 | 6:51:21 PM
re: What PC Makers Must Do Now
I have a smart phone, iPad, and a huge screen laptop. Each one serves a different purpose in my busy day, both at work and at play. The laptop allows me to use several different huge memory and cpu spaces to complete my daily work. The laptop is a little large to take to meetings for notes, so I use my iPad for note taking. I sometimes use my smart phone for email, etc. I don't want to have to give up any of the three.

I despair of finding another laptop like my current one - large capacity laptops seem to have bitten the dust as far as vendors are concerned (even AlienWare seems to be dropping out). I'm one of those people will pay for the capabilities - more memory, faster chips, more screen space, more drive space and more connecters. Even desktops seem to want to shed capability in order to get below a certain price point.

As someone who works all day on my laptop I hate when I have to leave the keyboard to use the mouse just because some software developer thought I should. I can't imagine the annoyance I would feel if I had to touch the screen to do something. I clean my laptop screen once a week, but I'm continually cleaning my iPad and phone. A clear case of just because I can doesn't mean I should.
CGIT
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CGIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/18/2013 | 4:01:59 PM
re: What PC Makers Must Do Now
my 2 cents. PCs and Laptops were, at one time, the only way to get to the Internet and the only way in which to play the "cool" games. Today, there are many devices to choose from for getting to the Internet and playing all the "cool" games. Thus a PC or laptop isn't as desireable or necessary as they once were. Thus HP, Dell who make PCs will see a decline in PC sales, and Microsoft will see a decline in Windows O/S sales because of the different choices available to surf the web and play the "cool" games.

The Caveat is, no one wants to only look at a 5" or 10" screen in which to surf the Internet or play "cool" games.Ask 10 people if they were willing to give up their 23" desktop screen in favor for their 5" phone or 10" tablet at home and at work, I would venture 9 out of 10 would say no.
If anything, the bigger the screen, the better.

But for getting your emails, Twitters, Facebooks, mobile devices are simply better because their mobile.

how to make PCs the hot item again? Create a really "cool" game that everyone will want to play that will only run on a desktop with desktop graphics. If you port it to XBox or PSP3, no one will buy it for the PC because, XBox and PSP3s are cheaper. Why buy a $1000.00 or $2,000 PC to play a video game that can run on a $400.00 console.
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