Is Windows Still Relevant?

on October 7, 2014

To say that the past week has been an interesting one for the PC market is one heck of an understatement. Between Microsoft’s first official preview of Windows 10 and HP’s announced split into two companies, there has been an enormous amount of hand-wringing and questioning about the future state of the PC market.

Not surprisingly, that’s also led to a lot of questions about Windows, given its still very close ties to PCs. Many reporters I’ve spoken with have basically asked, given the challenging conditions PCs face, is Windows still relevant?

My short answer? Absolutely.

First, let’s address the PC question. Though 90% of the tech industry seems intent on burying PCs while they’re still alive, the truth is, they are still alive. In fact, they’re showing signs of coming back to life, which I’m defining as no longer declining. (Hey, remember, flat is the new up.) We’ll know more next week when third quarter shipment numbers are announced, but given all the research I’ve done, as well as the upbeat reports we’ve heard from component makers and PC vendors, I’m willing to bet the PC story is going to be decent.

Plus, in a strange way, some of the bad news we’ve seen about tablets recently (flat to declining sales, etc.) could prove to be good for PCs. What’s implied in that news is that tablets are not going to take over PCs for most individuals, so those people who’ve been holding off on upgrading their existing PCs for fear that PCs won’t be relevant anymore, can now go ahead and upgrade.

Given the big HP news from earlier this week, it’s somewhat ironic that one of the more upbeat PC companies of late has been HP. In their last reported quarterly numbers released in August, their PC shipments were up an impressive 13% year over year. Not bad for a “dead” market. Additionally, even though many have tried to read a negative PC story into the news, HP’s announcement doesn’t mean that they’re questioning the future of the PC market. In fact, you could even make the argument that it’s the exact opposite. The truth is, it’s much too early to tell exactly what the impact (if any) HP’s announcement will have on either the near-term or even medium-term outlook for PCs.

So, let’s turn our attention back to Windows 10. I’ll start by making the argument that Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been all along. Instead of bifurcating into two distinct environments with a confusing model for working and switching between them, Windows 10 looks to leverage everything that’s good about the familiar Windows 7 interface, along with some of the genuine enhancements that came with the Metro UI of Windows 8. Again, it’s a bit early for final pronouncements here as well, but what I’ve seen so far is definitely encouraging.[pullquote]Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been all along.”[/pullquote]

Of course, the unfortunate implication is that Windows 8 set the PC industry back a good two years and it’s going to be difficult to catch up. While there may be some truth to that argument as well, I think it’s far from a lost cause. PCs still play a critical, if not always central, role in many people’s digital lives, so the fact that a new option that brings them back up to modern expectations is set to launch is very good, and important, news.

Microsoft has even bigger plans for Windows 10. Their goal is to be able to scale the UI intelligently from phones through tablets up to large-screen monitors attached to PCs. While that’s still going to be a challenge to do well, in some ways, it may not be as much work as it first appears because I’ve always felt the pure Metro UI actually works better on smaller screens, so there isn’t as much to change there.

The bottom line is that both Windows and PCs are still relevant in an increasingly mobile world. The role that all tech devices play is evolving and Windows-based PCs are changing too, but they continue to play an important role in both commercial and consumer applications and will continue to do so for some time to come.