Opinion: Can Windows 8 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.

Create a new thread in the US News comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
    Top Comments
  • alhanelem
    save the pc from what exactly... its still the best technology available
  • amigafan
    The question in the article is: Is it innovative enough to save the PC?
    The PC doesn't need any "innovations" of THAT kind otherwise it won't be a PC anymore but merely appliance for the casual consumers (who don't really need a PC, just give them the tablet for Facebook, multimedia and shopping online).

    PC itself needs to be continuously enhanced (more speed, less noise, less heat, and lower power consumption all at the same time, and of course it will always need a no-nonsense operating system without user "friendly" bloat which can't be disabled - imagine giant toolbars on the browsers are mandatory that would suck).

    Morphing the PC into a locked-down appliance is not equal to "saving" it. On the contrary, it's turning it into something that is not a PC anymore.

    You know "Post PC" or "PC Plus" era smells like stupidification and system access restriction. At least from the today's standpoint (I'm not saying this is definitely going to happen it just looks like it's heading that way).
  • cypeq
    The PC doesn't need saving get that in your head Tom's.
    If you Tom's believe that PC is dead I wander why you keep making articles about PC hardware... according to your claim no one should be reading them.
  • Other Comments
  • THEfog101
    If Microsoft continue to follow the trend of releasing something completely new (Windows Vista) and then fix it and release it again (Windows 7) it may not receive a very warm welcome. However that being said if they can pull of all the new features that they are planning for windows 8 and make it a smooth transition from those still clinging to XP for grim death then perhaps it may just be the thing that the PC industry has been needing for a while. Seems that innovation itself is a big problem mainly due to alot of users become complacent with what they have and that they do not relish the idea of something foreign and new despite the added benefits. This is always going to be a problem and manufacturers will simply have to figure out a way to minimize the system shock to new users.
  • Anonymous
    Metro UI is probably great for tablets & co., but I somehow can't imagine it on my home PC. It is very inconvenient to use and allows only full-screen windows that can't be overlapped and placed freely where I want them to. In this respect it reminds me very much of Windows 1.0. If MS decides that it cannot be switched off by default in the final version (right now it luckily can be disabled through a registry entry or by renaming one file), I'm definitely skipping this version, no matter what anybody else thinks. :-)
  • alhanelem
    save the pc from what exactly... its still the best technology available