Thursday, April 11, 2013

Revisiting Windows 8

Without much pleasure I note, in a Wall Street Journal article today (“Computer Sales in Free Fall”), that PCs remain in the doldrums—and that lots of people blame Windows 8. I held forth on that subject roughly six months ago (link) and have touched upon the essentially irrelevant war between hand-helds and desk-helds as well. It gives me no pleasure to note what are, deep down, knee-jerk and irrational reactions to markets by various once much admired leaders—like Microsoft, which brought us Windows 8 and Hewlett Packard which is still trying to dump its PC business. Hand-held devices and desktop computers are totally different products and markets. The difference might be described as that between a basket of hand tools on the one and a machine tool on the other hand. The PC market is now mature; the economy is still largely stagnant; hence, what with corporations holding off on purchases, PC sales are declining. But this decline is rooted in the economy’s performance, not in the operating system on the screen of the PCs. Replacing a quite excellent user-interface with a touchy-feely interface people in offices don’t routinely, habitually, use is simply not going to change broad market movements that have zero connection to flim-flam (link).

Here a quote from the WSJ article:

Ricoh Americas Corp., which replaces about a third of its 17,000 PCs every three years and upgrades to the most current operating system available, said this year it is sticking with Windows 7…. Tracey Rothenberger, the company’s chief operating officer, said the benefits of switching to the new software aren’t worth the effort of training employees to use it.

If our business media were innovative—rather than reacting simply to news releases—somebody would stage a trial. Pick a handful of heavy PC users in several companies—you know, the whole ball of wax: spreadsheets, databases, serious text processing like typesetting, and, in the graphics category, artists using Apples with extra-large screens for creating commercial graphics. Select tasks these people do on a certain day and note everything that they do. The next day deploy the same number of heavy iPad users to carry out the identical tasks during the same period of time. I’d love to read the story that would result from this comparison.

Is the PC really going away? I seriously doubt it. Will even the cyber industry mature, and probably quite soon? Most likely. Will the next great market be another of those where you can sell a pound of plastic, silicon, and bits of copper to hysterically-enthused consumers for $395 ever six month? Probably not. The big new markets may turn out to be quite different—and may have nothing to do with electronics.

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