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Don’t blame Windows 8     
By Alan Zisman

Headline online this morning: “Windows 8 causes most precipitous PC decline in history”.

A lot of folks, both ‘regular users’ and tech journalists are having fun bashing Microsoft and Windows 8, but sorry folks, this headline is overkill. (The actual ExtremeTech article is more nuanced than the headline might suggest).

There is a reality-base. PC sales are dropping – which was already the case prior to the release of Windows 8. IDC suggests sales in the first quarter of 2013 will be 13.9% lower than Q1-2012 sales – worse than the 7.7% drop they’d earlier predicted, while Gartner predicts a drop of 11%. PC-maker HP reported a 24% drop.

And Microsoft’s addition in Windows 8 of an interface designed for touch screen devices such as smartphones and tablets is awkward on non-touch laptop and desktop systems – the majority of Windows PCs. The result is that users have tended to be – at best – puzzled by Windows 8 and there was no PC sales ‘bounce’ following its release last fall. (I kind of like Windows 8, but I understand why it bewilders many users).

There are other factors than Windows 8, however. With a weak economy, individuals and businesses are less likely to replace existing computers or purchase new ones. Hardly anyone's buying netbooks - those low-priced, low-powered little laptops that were all the rage 2010-11; instead, people who would have bought netbooks are tending to opt for tablets.

Sales of smartphones and tablets are booming, however, so it’s not simply that buyers aren’t prepared to buy tech gear. They just aren’t that interested in buying laptop or desktop computers. (Even Apple is seeing a drop in Mac sales, though not as steep as the overall industry average).

The reality is that every tech product category goes through a period when it is new and exciting – and when new versions provide exciting new features. As a keyboard player, for the decade of the 1980s I found myself replacing my gear every two years or so as new generations of synthesizers seemed to offer new sizzle to my playing. While gear now is better than ever, I’m hanging onto it much longer. Businesses and home users will continue to buy new computers - but increasingly only when an old one finally stops working.

From about 1993 through the late 2000s, I was similarly replacing my laptop computer every couple of years. Now though, I’m typing this article on a MacBook laptop that I bought in late 2008. The current models of Apple’s 13” MacBook Pro have faster processors than this one, but this one (upgraded with a fast SSD drive) runs everything I need and looks just like the new ones. I have no plans to replace it anytime soon.

My suspicion: the primary reason for the slowdown in computer sales is that the market is saturated and people (and businesses) are finding that their current systems are working just fine. PC hardware manufacturers are in a business that’s becoming more like washing machines – where owners buy one and expect it to last a long time.

We’ve seen this happen recently with digital cameras – most folks who want one already have one and see little need to replace it. And they’re taking more and more photos with their phone in any case.

This is going to require a big adjustment for companies used to customers who replaced their systems every three years (whether they needed to or not).

(Prediction – we’re close to this point with smart phones; the pundits are predicting sales of around a billion this year – but I’d be surprised if we can continue with this level of sales for long).

So the problem’s not Windows 8 – and blaming it for poor PC sales is to miss the larger picture.

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About This Blog...

I've been writing about computers, software, Internet and the rest of technology since 1992, including a 17 year (1995-2012) stint as 'High Tech Office' columnist for Business in Vancouver. This blog includes thoughts on technology, society, and anything else that might interest me. Comments, emailed to are welcome - and may be published in whole or part. You can follow me on Twitter for notice of new blog postings.
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