Software // Operating Systems
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4/12/2013
04:47 PM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump

Blaming Windows 8 for the PC market's ongoing woes misses the bigger picture.

You might've heard this week that PC sales are tumbling downhill. Rest assured, this is definitely the case -- and the decline will continue. What may also happen is that some companies will see their market position crash and burn along the way.

You might also have heard that Windows 8 is to blame for all this -- and that assertion is harder to defend. Microsoft hasn't helped, but the PC's free fall involves bigger forces than Win8's inauspicious first six months.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting we exonerate Microsoft. Windows 8 has definitely underperformed. One could try to defend the OS by pointing out that touch-enabled hardware was too costly, but if electronics-buyers were really champing at the bit for tactile-minded Windows 8 models, products such as the Surface RT and Surface Pro would have made bigger waves. It's possible that Windows Blue could inject some life into the market. But that was the same hope that analysts had for Windows 8 before it entered the holiday season. Consumers were overwhelmingly indifferent to the new options during their annual gift-giving, so even though Windows Blue will help, it's unlikely to compel a massive shift.

[ Will price cuts help? Read Windows 8 Tablets: Why Microsoft Must Slash Prices. ]

Wall Street seems to agree; as soon as IDC and Gartner announced their grim PC forecasts, investors started dumping Microsoft, HP, Intel and others rooted in traditional computing. The stock market is a capricious beast but the reaction is reasonable. The three companies I named are all diverse enough to absorb shrinking PC sales. Though tablets are taking over, traditional laptops and desktops will continue to generate revenue for years to come -- just not as much revenue as they do now. But while the survival of Microsoft and its partners isn't at risk, their clout is on much shakier ground. A world in which Qualcomm, Android, and iOS will have the influence to match Intel and Windows is very different from the de facto monopolies that have reigned for more than a decade.

Even so, it's clear in retrospect that Windows 8 couldn't have done more than mitigate the damage. That it ended up exacerbating matters is unfortunate for Microsoft, but the conventional PC was already a boat taking on water. The tide has turned toward tablets and there aren't many good reasons to think that will change. Windows 8's Live Tile-focused attitude actually testifies to this fact, but even if Microsoft had applied more effort to refining the desktop, would it have actually made a difference?

The answer is no. PCs have always been capable of doing more than what most people used them for. Tablets, by virtue of their mobile-friendliness if not their more intuitive UIs, handle users' most frequent activities -- Web browsing, email, games, consuming media, etc. -- better than PCs do. Smart mobile devices have provided more meaningful generational improvements in recent years than laptops have, and they're generally very affordable. It's therefore unsurprising that consumers are replacing more of their old PCs with tablets than with new, expensive Ultrabooks.

Consumers still need PCs, of course. Word processing, the hype for an iOS version of Office notwithstanding, is still a compromised experience on a tablet. It's not impossible to create compelling content on iOS or Android, but most options are pretty watered down compared to their Windows or OS X equivalents. Smartphone users seem pretty content with Instagram, for example, but I'm sure I'm just one of millions who will keep buying PCs as long as it's the only real option for Photoshop, After Effects and other high-performance, hobbyist-friendly software.

Moreover, businesses will still be buying PCs in huge volumes. Salespeople, doctors and educators are among those who've quickly found ways to use tablets to improve professional workflows, and tablets will creep into additional business applications over time. But it's not clear that all business tasks can even be translated to a touch-friendly UI, and even if ubiquitous benefits were obvious, enterprises aren't known for rapidly redefining their IT ecosystems.

Still, it's clear that PCs no longer are the only type of computing device the people care about. And there are going to be more choices and options becoming available in the coming months and years. Indeed, it's worth noting that Windows 8's fate isn't intrinsically bound to that of the PC. Redmond and its partners will continue to push out clamshell Ultrabooks and even touchscreen-equipped desktops, so the PC isn't an irrelevant factor in Win8's success. But as Microsoft's rumored plan for a 7-inch Surface attests, the company knows short-term Windows 8 adoption lies in affordable tablets, not $1,000 laptops.

Whether consumers will care about these forthcoming options is debatable, of course, but Microsoft's efforts to distance Windows 8 from traditional computing are an acknowledgement that PC sales will continue to slide downhill. Redmond might've done more to slow the momentum but the company is hardly at fault for the shift in marketplace dynamics. The more appropriate -- and controversial -- issue is whether Microsoft is making the right moves to keep pace.

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robharrydean
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robharrydean,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/13/2013 | 3:51:12 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
Many factors have combined to squeeze Microsoft. Many of those factors were beyond any likelihood of mitigation by Windows 8. However Windows 8 has still in my opinion doubly failed: it has weakened Microsoft's appeal to its core constituency and legacy users, whilst simultaneously failing to make an effective pitch to the 'new form factors' tablet/mobile ecosystem.

I suggest that Microsoft's two greatest mistakes are these:
1. They branded RT & Phone as 'Windows', confusing the brand identity. They should have branded them 'Microsoft' with sub-brands (Surface, xPhone, whatever): brand identities have huge momentum and trying to steer them too abruptly tends to simply turn the vehicle over.
2. They gave away their huge advantage in user-inertia. Lots of regular users and businesses stick with long-lineage systems not because the alternatives are unappealing but out of reluctance to face a disruptive transition. Metro/ No Start Menu makes the prospect of Windows 8 feel potentially disruptive, which gratuitously squanders that huge inertial advantage: this not only an issue for the OS but for many consumers will simply be a disincentive to refreshing the hardware, in so far as Windows 8 will tend to be pre-installed.

In this context, Windows 8 could be considered to have likely made a substantial negative contribution to the appeal of PCs, and to have turned an opportunity to ameliorate the deteriorating sales situation into something of a nosedive.
AcrossMountains
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AcrossMountains,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/13/2013 | 8:04:43 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
I agree with what you and what robharrydean posted, particularly the second bullet. When I bought a new desktop a year ago, I decided to do so when Windows 7 was still available. I was using Windows XP and after 8 1/2 years, it was time to look for a new one. I looked at what I was reading about Windows 8 and decided it was more of a learning curve for me than I cared for. If I felt that way, imagine how business must feel about the time that it would take for their employees to learn and decrease productivity. It's not at all uncommon to me to go to a place that is still using XP. I've seen a lot more with XP, than with 7, none with 8.

Now would be a good time for Apple to have Microsoft for lunch, if only Apple's mindset about how it conducts business would permit it.
wzachmann023
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wzachmann023,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2013 | 3:17:21 AM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
I've been following all this with considerable interest. I think there's a decent chance that Windows 8 will prove to be much more successful than the current industry consensus projects for it. It certainly is a somewhat jarring transition for users and takes some getting used to, but it is also a very nicely designed interface that is quite innovative and provides a very different UI that works very well for tablets, phones and such (and is very usable on a more traditional desktop system once one gets used to it). I think that Windows 8 (and successors) may eventually do much better than most folks currently expect it to.
CopyingAppleIsDangerous
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CopyingAppleIsDangerous,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2013 | 8:59:59 AM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
I read this article very carefully. Twice. I think it is wrong. The author uses the same argument (apology) that is currently being used by several authors around the Internet: Blame the tablets. The problem is that, if you look at the reduction in PC sales, there is no complementary increase in tablet sales.Furthermore, if you look at Windows 8 tablet sales, they are horrible.

So all of these consumers did not buy a PC because they were going to buy tablets instead, but did not buy the tablets? That doesn't make sense.

Furthermore, it *is* true that PC's have superfluous computing power these days. But that was true before Windows 7, which sold fine.

And lets not forget that, for whatever it is worth, iPads are selling just fine.

What happened with PC's is that (1) Microsoft owns most of the OS market (2) People hate Windows 8.

So, I think it would be more correct to say something like this: PC users currently have more or less powerful older computers. Upgrading is a luxury, not a necessity, and such users do upgrade occasionally. [I bought two extra Windows 7 laptops that I still don't use, for example]. If such users were on the fence about whether to buy a new PC, the detestable nature of Windows 8 convinced them to keep what they had.
Gareth Davies
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Gareth Davies,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2013 | 2:32:27 AM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
I am running Windows 8 on a 13 inch Samsung touchscreen ultrabook (laptop). It feels like a tablet that can do all the word processing/file management of windows, with a built in keyboard and stand.

I tried a dockable tablet but found the screen was top-heavy and awkward when docked. Plus you get less hardware bang for your buck with tablets (vs laptops) and they tend to be all about graphics.

Note I use my Windows 8 laptop in conjunction with a Samsung GS3 phone running Android. Lots of great apps sync between Android and Windows 8 (like Chrome, Dropbox, Evernote, 8 Tracks, and Hootsuite).

Unless you have a touchscreen I can see Windows 8 being a major frustration with a mouse (though I have heard users say otherwise). But with a touchscreen, 'Metro' is a surprisingly snappy, bug free, beautiful and liberating experience, worth the minimal (and fun) effort to relearn Windows with a touchscreen.

Live tiles have huge potential for utility/productivity, and I hope developers are catching on slowly with Windows 8 (not sure how accessible the platform is to developers). I don't miss any apps from the Apple Store or Android Market, but I also don't play a ton of games on my computer.

I would guess Microsoft holds the keys to the much heralded Enterprise market until someone challenges the MS Office suite. Windows 8 integrates much better with Office than Android or iPad, and Microsoft is definitely catching up in terms of 'fun'.

Tablets haven't caught up yet in word processing because of the touchscreen's lack of type-ability. I personally think touchscreen laptops (no bigger than 13 inch or the screen is too far away) are a great solution!

Makes you wonder why Apple's Macbook has never come in a touchscreen version? The answer is sadly: Apple wants you to buy two products.

-Gareth
Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2013 | 7:41:14 AM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
It will be funny to read this article again shortly after MS collapsed and went out of business because of Windows 8 disaster.
Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2013 | 9:43:20 AM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
Good luck with selling apps to 3% of market share that uses 8 with the Store while your competitors overcome you selling competing applications targeting the 100% of Windows user share including the 3% of Windows 8.
If Ballmer did not see it coming, it should not be CEO even of an hot dog kiosk.
Mike_Acker
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Mike_Acker,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2013 | 11:40:03 AM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
good write up

desktop PCs are a particular class of tool and I don't see the need for them going away . but with industry still struggling to get rid of XP it's easy to see that win8 is a huge obstacle to progress in this change over

digging deeper though we have to discuss other points. one of which is Windows is not a secure system and is unsuitable for commercial use. another is windows is just an obnoxious mess. my daughter is enrolled in an onlune-U and windows office 2010 is required. she struggles with the software a lot and wishes she had bought a Mac.

a lot of people prefer Macs. I don't know about that so much; I'm a Linux user. I switched about 6 months ago and I really feel sorry for folks still struggling with the WinMess

msft will sink in the winmess and join EastMan Kodak et.al. -- in the dust bin.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
4/15/2013 | 3:45:15 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
I'm also surprised we haven't seen more touchscreen laptops, Gareth. How many times have you seen someone tap a screen? Even with one, though, I would want to keep my tablet. Still a different use case for me.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2013 | 4:01:51 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
The only one I know stating that Win 8 is the sole cause for the big Windows PC slump, is Michael Endler stating that others are saying that.

No one is saying that! What is being said, as he says in the actual article, is that it's contributing to the slump.
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