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The rush is on to bury Windows and the PC

How the "PC is dead" narrative came together.

Welcome to the era of web publishing, where hit counters are everything and sensational headlines are the norm to grab your attention. This has resulted in an explosion in blogging that's pretty much troll bait, either designed to give someone bragging rights for having called it first or simply a desperate attempt to get Slashdotted.

Many fellow journalists have jumped over to the analyst side, and I suspect there are many more who would like to be there. They want to be respected as ahead of the game; seen a prognosticator, a sage, whatever.

Me, I let the winds blow. How long have people predicted the demise of the mainframe? And yet today it runs Linux. We all thought vinyl was dead. It's making a comeback. Tech is a funny thing and the people are fickle.

But this endless prediction of the demise of the PC is something I cannot let go. So, in response to a series of blogs on another publisher's site, I want to present my own view of things.

The low end is going away. A decade ago, I used to pick up a free magazine called Computer Currents, and it was loaded with ads from the local white box PC shops. Nine out of ten of these stores had Taiwanese staff who barely spoke English but could build a PC for you in 10 minutes.

All of them are gone now. So is Computer Currents. The focus shifted to custom high-end systems and CPU Magazine, which stands for Computer Power User. It's a free monthly that features full page reviews of power supplies and heat sinks and is fat with ads from custom builders like Falcon Northwest, Origin and Puget Custom Computers, who make systems that cost in the thousands but promise the best performance you can get from current hardware.

They have taken the Ferrari approach: they won't sell a lot and don't want to, but every system is a beast. The hardware used is thoroughly tested they won't use anything with dodgy drivers. Plus they put no bloatware on the machine and only use Windows 7, two major pluses. There will always be a need for power, and these guys will fill that need. 

I think what took down the screwdriver shops, as the old white-box vendors were known, was a decided lack of white-box laptops. You can buy all the pieces of a desktop from Fry's Electronics or Micro Center and build your own PC, but you can't do the same for a laptop. So as we shifted to laptops, these guys had no option to offer.

Whatever the reason, the low end will disappear but the PC won't. There are just too many tasks that can't be done practically or at all on a tablet.

The laptop market has taken a nosedive. It's a good thing we have Lenovo, because at least someone is trying. HP has been a basket case, and Dell, which once really tried to compete with Apple in the aesthetics market, seems to be a bit distracted these days. Then there's Acer, which always made cheap junk. It was always known for a high defect rate.

Lenovo is succeeding because it makes solid hardware, puts less bloatware on it and fully supports Windows 7, something the others don't do. The fact is PC sales are down because there are too few laptops that make PC owners say "I must have that."

There's no denying Windows 8 poisoned the well, especially coming off the excellent Windows 7. For now, I will cling to the rumor from a Russian rumormonger with an excellent track record that Windows 9 will see the return of Aero and the Modern UI will be relegated to tablets.

"Good enough" is the real threat. Home theater vendors, particularly in audio, are fretting these days. Sales are down because for too many people, earbuds or tinny computer speakers are just good enough for music. A 21-inch monitor and desktop speakers are good enough for a movie, many Netflix subscribers say. I say you're nuts.

I fear this lazy mentality will infest tablet and Chromebook users. They will say "eh, it's good enough" when it isn't. Safari on the iPad is a clumsy experience. Cut-and-paste is even more awkward and unnatural. I've found the webpage rendering on smartphones and tablets to be very poor, and don't get me started on music quality. If people settle for the inferior experience, then yes, the PC will lose out to tablets and smartphones.

To some degree, we've seen proof. A very large percentage of people have ditched land lines in favor of just a smartphone, and yet the smartphone still can't and never will match the land line for quality and connection. But it's good enough.

The true enemy of the PC and of all technology is mediocrity and the acceptance of it.

The PC is mainstreamed. This was inevitable. Just as we reached saturation with cars, stereo equipment or home appliances, the PC has finally achieved ubiquity. So it would be unreasonable to expect old growth patterns now that it has gotten about as much of the market as it is going to get. Sales now will be on a replacement basis. So phooey on every prognosticator who says the PC is dying. It's merely leveling off, having achieved market maturity. It won't go away but it just won't have the old growth trajectory.

Now, there is always a chance to spark a revival. How sexy were televisions 10 years ago? Sure, there were big-screen TVs. They were monstrosities and didn't look that good. Then came DVD and Blu-ray, high-definition cable and satellite (translation: content) and technologies like DLP and large-scale LCD, and things got interesting again. Suddenly, the TV section in Best Buy was hot again as people raced to replace their 4:3 CRT TVs.

So it can happen. But a revolution needs to take place on the PC, and who's going to lead it, HP?

In short, I feel the PC is suffering from neglect and laziness, both on the part of vendors and consumers. Vendors aren't trying and users aren't excited. The shiny new thing is the tablet. OK, let's wait a few years and see how it works out. I predict…everyone will be wrong.

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