PC Future

Data points:

  • Apple has a 128 gig iPad now.
  • Acer says their new Chromebook is a hit. In fact, it’s their best seller right now.
  • Windows 8 computers are failing to fly off the shelves. All the big manufacturers are whining about this.
  • Dell is preparing a management buyout that will take the company private.
  • Samsung is collaborating with Intel to revive the moribund Meego OS. They plan to sell Meego handsets in China.

That’s the context. Here is what I think it all means:

Why would you pay $800 for an iPad with a lot of local storage? Because you want to use your iPad to replace your laptop. The “tablet-replaces-laptop” movement is well underway. Apple is just acknowledging it. And capitalizing on it. And sanctifying it.

The surprising success of the new, low-cost Chromebooks by Samsung and Acer are more proof that the masses don’t care about Windows software anymore. If they can use the web, email, and do office work, they are good.

Given that, do you think that Dell will hang in the consumer PC market long term, after they go private? I don’t. I think they will refocus on enterprise sales, support, and consulting. Inevitably, this means they will get heavily involved in linux. They will eventually adopt a Redhat-style model: custom distro with paid support. Oracle is already doing this, btw.

As Samsung is learning, post-PC companies need to own their own OS. Samsung will look to gain stewardship of Meego, much as Google has stewardship of Android.

That leaves four companies in the consumer PC business: HP, Acer, Asus, and Lenovo (sort of). Lenovo is already halfway down Dell’s path, selling mostly to enterprises. HP has considered divesting the PC division. This topic will keep coming up.

In the short term, the last four PC builders will try to thread the needle, with a mix of Windows, Android, and Chrome machines. It’s a difficult task, though. Two of them will fail in some way (sold, merged, shut down).

And Microsoft? They have already split their OS across three lines: server, prosumer, consumer:

  • The server line will live on, becoming the modern equivalent of Solaris. Lots of enterprises will rely on it. Consumers will be unaware of it. Microsoft will reap recurring license and support fees.
  • The prosumer line (Windows 8 on Intel) will die off. I don’t think Microsoft will resist this. They could, of course, buy one of the dying PC makers, and go into the hardware business for themselves. But I don’t think they will. They are far more likely to mimic Apple in getting cozy with Foxcon or someone similar, and stamping out devices for their consumer line.
  • The consumer line (Windows 8 RT, XBox) is where Microsoft will put all its effort. It is early days for the Metro interface. Eventually, Microsoft will build up a great library of titles in its store, just like Apple did. They will blend Metro into the next Xbox, and produce XBox-branded devices for the home (media streamer, tablet, universal remote).

So where does that leave programmers like me? Same place as the last few years. Focus on the web. It works everywhere.

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