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The silver lining to plummeting PC sales

I read and mostly dismissed the headlines from earlier this week that PC sales slumped in the last quarter, falling 13.9 percent.

International Data Corp., the market research firm that tracks these things, said it was the biggest quarterly drop ever.

Obviously, PCs and laptops aren’t the technology driver they once were. The power of smartphones and tablets has usurped that role, but the rise of mobile devices is more about the network than the device.

What the folks at Sun Microsystems preached for years has come true: The network is the computer.

An article at BloombergBusinessweek points to troubles at Dell and Hewlett-Packard for the drop in PC sales for those companies.

That could be true, but I’m skeptical.

But the declining PC sales had to be a disappointment for Microsoft. Traditionally, a new operating system leads to increase in PC sales, but the launch of Windows 8 just didn’t do it.

I’m not writing Windows 8 off, by any means. The thinking behind the new OS is sound, and very alluring. In the demos that I saw, it was trying to bridge the gap between consuming information, which smartphones and tables are good at, and production of information, a strength of PCs.

That’s a worthy goal, but perhaps Microsoft is stretching too far in trying to make its OS the mechanism for bridging that gap. Perhaps it should have been more at the application layer.

But the bigger question is what shrinking sales of PCs really means for how IT services are delivered. That’s what brought me back to this news.

The first thing that comes to mind is that not everyone needs the computing power of a PC, and with the power of smartphones and tablets increasing, the PC will only become more irrelevant for more users.

That shift should create some opportunities to look at how people work with information, and what they are using their devices for.

Fewer PCs mean the infrastructure will change. This could reduce costs, but it also could be an opportunity to fine tune how computing power is used and distributed. Perhaps there is a way to save costs but increase productivity and effectiveness.

If everything is cloud-based, either private or public, do computing devices become more disposable? If so, what does that mean?

Perhaps fewer PCs mean that the ones being sold are expensive and more specialized. This could be a good thing for the margins of manufacturers and service providers.

Management headaches will increase with more variety of devices and operating systems and apps. We’ve already seen that, so helping an agency get their arms around that should be a great opportunity.

I think the decline in PC sales will stabilize, just as the growth of tablets and smartphones will level off.

But, now is the time to be thinking about what the ultimate balance of the ecosystem will look like, and what challenges that ecosystem will present.

Fresh thinking here could create golden opportunities.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Apr 11, 2013 at 7:24 PM


Reader Comments

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 pps

I hope we don't forget that the P in PC is for personal computing. I for one like the old idea of owning the apps and doing independent private computing. Now, faced with corporate clouds, the possibility of Borland's $99 compiler can easily become $4000-the price DEC used to charge before the PC revolution. Ok, compilers are not the killer app today, but you know what I mean. Sure you can get a $0.99 iphone app, but it isn't really private, and you don't really own it while they snoop your every move. Finally cloud performance is not great for those working with large complex models. Let's keep personal computing personal if nothing, but for its privacy and independence.

Fri, Apr 12, 2013

Great article Nick. Just keep those "fresh thinking" ideas coming forward!

Fri, Apr 12, 2013 GoodGuy729

Microsoft drove a stake into the heart of PC sales with the launch of Windows 8. Vista looks like a stellar success in comparison to this train wreck. Very sad.

Fri, Apr 12, 2013

If you look at Federal Agencies and big businesses, they are returning to the thin client, eliminating the need for PCs. We are returning to our roots for economics and better control.

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