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Opinion: Can Windows 8 Save the PC?

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 16 comments

This is the Microsoft I thought was locked up in history: The company sparked broad interest in the user model that will be introduced with Windows 8 and will largely rely on the new Metro GUI environment. Is it innovative enough to save the PC?

A few days ago, I wrote a column on the PC crash and several readers made criticizing comments for having called the latest 2011 shipment forecast a "crash." Crash, of course, always implies a sharp decline, while the PC market is still expected to grow, even if it is just by 3.8 percent (which most certainly will change within three months again). I still believe that "crash" is the correct way to describe the current dilemma PC makers are facing with virtually no growth left. Let's just say that the growth has crashed.

If you have read my previous column, you may remember that I argued against the notion that the economy and the iPad are responsible for the current problem. I would claim there is a lack of innovation that has become a homegrown problem over a time span of as much as two decades. For much too long, PC users have been served the basic bread-and-butter PC that is tough to get excited about and  tough to be proud of, at least if you are not willing to go to the length of obtaining an enthusiast box.

Windows 8 introduces a significant departure from the way we use a PC if we consider the Metro touch interface as the future, primary way to enter data into PCs, as Microsoft said. There is a noticeable excitement that has been sparked by Microsoft that has resulted in more than half a million Windows 8 Developer Preview downloads, according to Steve Ballmer. If you haven't tried the interface yourself and have a touchscreen PC available, I highly recommend installing the preview via a virtual environment, such as Oracle's VirtualBox, and running Windows 8 from there. It won't affect your PC and you can get rid of it easily again. If you are interested in PCs, this is a great opportunity to see how Windows will look a year from now.

Windows 8 and its strong focus on touch is a brave move that delivers a new platform opportunity for innovation in software and hardware. It will be critical for Microsoft to stimulate the current interest in the operating system to see whether we are heading into a "Post PC" or "PC Plus" era. Post PC would imply that the PC is dead and may just go away if even a progressive operating system such as Windows 8 can't help the good old PC anymore. However, the indication appears to be that Windows 8 would promote more than just one or two form factors than the traditional Windows desktop/notebook, extending the operating system to a variety of devices. These would include: tablets, ultrabooks, ARM devices, and traditional desktops and notebooks; all of which may go through several innovation stages as hardware vendors learn what form factors work for touch and which do not.

Microsoft is behaving about as aggressively as it can with the introduction of Windows 8. On the hardware side, Intel is also helping hardware vendors to come up with new ideas (well, as much as a Macbook Air copy can be called a new idea) for the ultrabook. If you have seen the first ultrabooks, including an Asus device that closely resembled the idea of the Macbook Air, there is a chance that you were slightly disappointed, in which case I would suggest waiting a few more months as Intel is encouraging vendors to experiment and make the notebook exciting again.

We should see a wave of innovative devices in 2012. In that view, I believe that Windows 8 absolutely can reignite PC sales and help the industry recover from the current minimal growth range. There is a certain symbiotic effect between hardware and software, as well as an overlap of complementary technologies, that combine to deliver a great foundation for much more passionate and useful personal computers. Heterogeneous processing cores, a new drop in power consumption, greater graphics capabilities, new screen technologies and a big shift in the way we interact with computers via touch is, at the very least, a reason to be hopeful that the PC industry is waking up and can innovate again.

However, this innovation will also blur the lines between devices that we consider PCs today, and those we do not. Smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks, notebooks and desktop systems are being combined into one personal computing ecosystem with their capabilities all very much in the range of what we consider to be a "personal computer". If Microsoft is finding a way to reimagine (the most favorite word these days at Microsoft) itself and construct such an ecosystem, it has every opportunity to give life to the PC 2.0. It will look different than the PC of the past 30 years, but will still be a PC. My personal opinion? The PC is not going to die anytime soon.

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  • 1 Hide
    anthonyla65 , 18 September 2011 19:03
    Hmmm... Its interesting in my opinion. It could suceed or fail, quite risky in my opinion. It seems very WP7/Metro based which isn't a bad thing, but if you are gonna opt for the "Traditional Desktop" then there shouldn't be any Metro Elements cos thats for the Touch Based device. I don't like having Touch Based interface for PC's.

    I had faith in Linux before, before they rolled out Gnome 3 and Unity which both have completely screwed things up because people don't like change. KDE is too demanding hence won't run well on low end PC's hence it would lose alot of the market share.

    In the end I hope it works. Windows is always better than Mac OS. ;) 
  • 3 Hide
    ps3hacker12 , 18 September 2011 19:04
    anthonyla65Hmmm... Its interesting in my opinion. It could suceed or fail, quite risky in my opinion. It seems very WP7/Metro based which isn't a bad thing, but if you are gonna opt for the "Traditional Desktop" then there shouldn't be any Metro Elements cos thats for the Touch Based device. I don't like having Touch Based interface for PC's.I had faith in Linux before, before they rolled out Gnome 3 and Unity which both have completely screwed things up because people don't like change. KDE is too demanding hence won't run well on low end PC's hence it would lose alot of the market share.In the end I hope it works. Windows is always better than Mac OS.


    i don't even consider osx an OS ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    MrSiko , 18 September 2011 19:14
    Good article Wolfgang.

    I have been holding off on a tablet, despite some pretty nice droid tablets out there. Not that I don't love my gingerbread desire though.

    Now, a tablet with full windows functionality will definitely get my dollar.
  • 6 Hide
    jrtolson , 18 September 2011 20:07
    there is nothing wrong with the pc market, at all...

    the decline in pc sales is pure and simple, most people have a rig that is within the 10 year old mark and is good enough to run and play most games, for e.g. my pc is an atlon 3200, single core and ati x1950 pro and 2 gig ram, if it breaks i buy replacemnt used bits of ebay, now 2004 was when i built this rig, im thinking of building a new rig to play sky rim arround christmas, now if most peeps are like me then it means there hardware market has to stall from time to time.. and as for software most people use pirate copies of windows 6, and 7 and probabily 8 i bet.. as no one wants to pay microsoft for their not very good bloatware, (myself excluded ofcourse) lol
  • 4 Hide
    Lewis57 , 18 September 2011 22:47
    The decline is PC sales is easy to understand. There was a time in my family, my dad and mother had a PC, me and my sister had a PC. Now my dad, mum and sister have laptops. I have a gaming PC and a laptop. The average (casual) computer user doesn't want a tower just to use a browser. It's not needed.

  • 4 Hide
    silver565 , 19 September 2011 03:59
    Recession = people wanting to get more out of their older systems. Of course the market will decline
  • 0 Hide
    doive1231 , 19 September 2011 15:26
    The rise of the tablet is inevitable. Win 8 is trying to stem the tide. If it's better than Android then perhaps, otherwise the PC is dead.
  • 3 Hide
    mactronix , 19 September 2011 15:54
    Too many sheep (Yes you Wolfgang) ready to believe what the money men want us all to believe.
    There are way to many things you just plain can not do on anything other than a Desktop for it to ever go away.
    The Economy the way it is has to explain a huge amount of the drop off in sales. Its just convenient for those who are trying to shove the latest and greatest gadgets down our throats,(Kching) want it or not, to use it as a reason why the PC is going the way of the DoDo.
    It isn't
  • 1 Hide
    Goldengoose , 19 September 2011 16:51
    Stop with the panic! The majority of Europe and the USA have just come out of a major recession, the growth of countries is barely hitting 1%, the technology sector share price fell in general this year so of course PC sales are going to be down! Infact we should be happy that there is still growth in some subsections.
  • 2 Hide
    will_chellam , 19 September 2011 16:59
    jtrolson is bang on the mark...

    I built my first PC in 1992/3 - a cycrix 133+, 32mb of ram and 1mb graphics card, every new innovation needed a total system overhaul - DVD (DXR2 card) CD writer (SCSI card) faster processor and dont even get me started on the new graphics card every 6 months to play the latest game that supported either 3dfx *or* openGL but not both, i had to upgrade my processor to use adobe premiere since the cyrix didnt support MMX, faster CD writer every week, more hard disk - new interface format etc etc etc....

    My current rig is essentially 6 years old (C2D e6600, 4gb RAM) its had its 2x 7950GT cards replaced with a 4670, an extra HDD and an upgrade to windows 7, but that is it.

    Microsoft have killed PC hardware with OSs that are actually faster and more efficient than their predecessors - the jump from 3.11 to 95 was huge, from 95 to XP immense, from XP to Vista pretty big, but 7 actually runs on slower hardware than its predecessor.

    People have wised up, my current PC doesnt really do anything new from the one I had 10 years ago - functionally its pretty much identical, but with better graphics and a bit more storage....
  • 1 Hide
    Fox Montage , 19 September 2011 18:39
    will_chellam is bang on the mark...

    I still consider a C2D machine to be more than adequate for most people's needs. Even for gaming, most games will be playable on something like a 4670. Consoles, are mostly responsible for this, but maybe with the next generation of consoles, we'll see more and more games that require more powerful rigs. Encouraging the likes of me to upgrade my 5 year old PC. As it stands, I have no reason to upgrade my C2Q and 8800.
  • 1 Hide
    Dark Comet , 19 September 2011 19:02
    Almost everything that the average user does on a PC can be done on a tablet in the living room. For gaming though, the PC will never be replaced!
  • 1 Hide
    Gonemad , 19 September 2011 21:39
    I am quite happy with my i7-920 and a Radeon HD 5870. Considering I came from a P4 Northwood with a radeon x850xt (AGP, mind you)... I am well up on the 10 year range of my rig.

    But I am taking a sneak peek on the i7-2600k or at least a boot-setup-win7 SSD. But revamping mobo/mem to match ain't fun. And SSDs are too plain expensive right now. That's why I'm not upgrading right now.

    No notebook can run that level of gaming... at the cost I had on this rig. Right on analysis...
  • 1 Hide
    MKeeper , 19 September 2011 21:40
    Dark Comet,

    You talking about average home user? (browse a bit .. write some emails .. use Facebook / Twitter) or work users (who live their lives in Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint?)

    If you made me use a tablet every day I just might chew my arm off ..
  • 1 Hide
    sanityfm , 21 September 2011 22:06
    Save the PC eh. From what exactly? These enlarged phones we call tablets are, mostly only able to run small media consumption apps. They maybe fine for the swine'ish masses, not able to think further than the latest formulaic Hollywood movie or corporate buzzword but thats about all.

    After the initial honeymoon period of "wow, look at what this morph app can do", my Ipad2 has become nothing more than a device to ocasionally surf with when I'm watching TV, or cotrol my music collection.

    Truth is, there will be no need to save the PC as in the next few years tablets will be shruken down PC's. So these enlarged phones we currently have will no longer be relevent, and amount to the equivilent of a Sharp Personal Organiser today. Both Apple and MS are clearly heading in this direction, and Im sure the others see this too.

    Those companies who currently aren't that great in the PC market might have more of an interest in propegating terms like "post PC era", to encourage techsites and bloggers who don't know any better to create articles just like this one, and spread their corporate ideals for them.

    So the real question is; Can the PC save tablets from mediocrity? hehe

    Regards.
  • 0 Hide
    Dark Comet , 19 October 2011 01:41
    Quote:
    Dark Comet,

    You talking about average home user? (browse a bit .. write some emails .. use Facebook / Twitter) or work users (who live their lives in Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint?)

    If you made me use a tablet every day I just might chew my arm off ..


    I did mean average home user as in for personal use not work yes. There might be a day where the tablet does replace the PC for the work user though. Plugging into the TV and using a mouse of course.