The short answer is no, the ‘pc’ will be around forever. The longer answer is and the more appropriate question is really, is this the end of Windows PC dominance? There is a prevalent view in the media that the “PC” is being replaced with the Tablet PC. Except PC is just a term that means Personal Computer, to me a Tablet *is* a PC so I don’t even get the whole discussion of the death of the PC. It is like when they stopped making CRT Tube television sets, was that the “end of TV?” of course not. Still I do think the real topic people are trying to get at is they think the Desktop computer is dying or specifically the Windows PC is what they are saying is dying?
As avid Windows user I really dread the day when Windows is no more. People hate change which is so true, and think that alone explains why Windows 8 is having a hard time taking off to previous Windows levels. And there is some truth to that I think, there are other reasons some of which I will try to tackle today in this examination of the industry. I also want to take a look at the future of computers and maybe redefining some terms people are misusing. The simple reason why I do not want Windows to go away is because as someone who has been using it for nearly two decades now, I have no desire to abandon all the software I am comfortable with and use regularly to try to find equivalent software on a new OS. I have a Desktop loaded up with Ubuntu Linux and while I personally do enjoy the OS and I like some of the features, I have run into several instances where software I use regularly just doesn’t exist on Linux and I can’t find software that does what I do that is equal. Sure if I spent more time on it I might find more and more useful stuff but the reality is as of right now I use Sony products more than anything, Vegas, DVD Architect, and Acid which are just not available on other systems besides Windows. I always here why don’t I dual boot, well my response is why the hell *WOULD* I? Why would I ever load up Linux over Windows when I can do everything I want in Windows and only certain things in Linux? Is it because I prefer the overly complicated method of installing software? I can understand why computer nerds and geeks like Linux but as a user who just wants things to work with as little hassle as possible, it is not for me.
I don’t spend anymore time explaining why I don’t want Windows to go away I just want to talk about why I think it might be in trouble. First the rise of Tablets, some cite this as a reason why Windows PC’s are doomed. I disagree, here is why. Computers have always existed as a tool for businesses primarily and serious computer users are not giving up their desktops for tablets. Tablets to most advanced users are just toys, and for them they have their merits but not as serious computers. The interface is one reason, some software is just not designed to be used without a proper keyboard and sure tablets have keyboards as optional attachments the thing is they are already expensive who wants to spend an extra fifty bucks or more to get a keyboard their desktop/laptop comes with included in the package? Also if your desktop keyboard dies well they are all basically the exact same as since the 1980’s, all that has changed is the plug and even those are usually still available and if not they do make a converter that is easy to find, I happen to have four myself just for such an occasion. Also they are cheap nothing like replacing a broken blue tooth keyboard like on a tablet.
The other issue is the types of users, back in the 80’s and 90’s computers were used by a smaller segment of the population, they didn’t reach mainstream levels until the turn of the century and that was when they became multimedia devices with internet access. Today there is so much to do online it makes sense to have a computer or web enabled device to go online and do all the things people do. Well fifteen years ago you wanted to get online and do Facebook (or Yahoo which was what we had back then) well you had no choice but to own a computer. People discovered that they use parts of the computer and those are the parts they can get on a tablet which is why those customers were only temporary PC users anyways. These user bought a computer at a time when if they wanted to get on Facebook, Netflix, Youtube, Wikipedia, etc, they had no choice. Now if you only need the internet and media aspect you can get all that on your smartphone or your tablet or your gaming device. So those users were naturally going to leave the PC market first chance they got, as they were nearly forced to get a desktop just to do the few things they wanted. Also a tablet is a lot harder to screw up than a desktop because there is little the actual user can do mostly you install apps and browse the web, not much else to do, on a desktop you have memory management, virtual memory, networking, security, formatting, Defragmenting, and the list goes on, it is so easy to break a desktop most people were overwhelmed and I can understand why those users do not want or need a dedicated desktop or even a laptop anymore.
So that segment of the market is fading away, but the desktop industry will just go back to pre-boom levels it won’t fade away entirely right? Not so fast, there is another side of the equation, Steam OS. Steam is a dedicated gaming service provided by a company called Valve, which is the most popular gaming service in the world right now. Gaming has always been a segment of the desktop market that has driven more growth than even the business side, gamers or PC gamers, like to customize their hardware, they like to have top of the line video cards for spectacular visual effects, they like high quality monitors for ultra high resolution images, they like to have ergonomic, gaming keyboards and mice, they like to spend money on their machines and that money is what drives the desktop market, business users are cheap they buy a machine and upgrade it once they have no choice and will not replace it until it will cost more to fix it than to replace it, which even then they will be reluctant because they don’t like the extra cost of moving their software and files over as well as learning a new OS which takes time to learn, then to train employees to use, they like things to stay the same which is why businesses are going to stick with Windows for as long as Windows exists period. But what about those gamers? PC gamers are not tempted by the glitter of consoles but there is a segment of PC gamers were game on PC not because they don’t like consoles but because the games are exclusive to PC and are better suited for PC controls. Steam OS and the Steam Machine is potentially set to shake that up.
Here is how Steam Machine works, you buy a pre-built gaming computer that is in a living room ready set top box that looks just like a traditional game console, it will have the same features and options to customize and upgrade a PC will have but it will be designed with gaming in mind, why this will attract a certain segment of the PC gaming market is because there are those who are all about performance and Desktop PC’s are bloated with all the other features that Windows requires to run, which is why gamers would love to switch to Linux but the games selection is a limiting factor. Steam Machines will fix two of those issues, first they will be optimized for gaming which means less overhead and more performance out of the box, something that gaming console gamers already enjoy. They can still upgrade their hardware as needed but their OS is tailored to be optimized for gaming, where Windows is optimized for multitasking which is good for business but bad for gaming. The second issue it fixes is the games selection, Steam already has the largest library of video games on PC that gamers can get their hands on. It will basically give them a chance to have a closer experience to a console but keeping the benefits of a PC. Obviously these machines will not appeal to everyone but there is a segment, potentially large, that wants a gaming PC without the hassle of PC gaming. I am one of those gamers who loves PC gaming but I hate gaming on a PC, so I am one segment of that market for sure as Steam DOES have games I want, but nobody likes to play games on a Laptop and my desktop has always been used by me for gaming, which is why I tried Linux in the first place.
This will have a side effect on Windows PC gaming, as Steam is it’s own Operating system on these machines it will not be over the top of Windows, on a PC you install Steam on top of Windows and again take a performance hit doing so. This has much appeal to a person such as myself. Also gamers who buy Windows for gaming are a large segment of the Windows PC market, if Steam Machines take off even in modest numbers those are just fewer Windows Users, especially if these users do their media stuff on their Smart devices anyways, like I intend to do. My ideal set up will be PS3/PS4 for console gaming and media usage, and Steam Machine for those PC games I want to play but finally cut out all the hassle that makes PC gaming, at least for me and others like me, a major deterrent. As the Windows market shrinks due to that will it be enough to kill them off? I also think the answer is no.
Before Windows 95 desktop PC’s were not the dominant gaming computer platform, the two big ones were DOS and Commodore/Amiga. Commodore was at one time the largest selling computer brand in the world and they were mostly used for gaming more than anything else. Dedicated gaming machines are not new, and non-Microsoft gaming computers are also not new. The market has grown but the tastes have not changed much. I think what will happen is Windows will be reduced back to 90’s levels and Steam will rise up to replace the gap Amiga left in the industry when they went out of business. Sure they sort of tried to make a come back in recent years but their new systems are all playing on nostalgia and are not to be taken too seriously.
There is one other thing that could take Windows down and that is Xbox, specifically all the money it is losing Microsoft and if it continues doing so that alone could take the entire business down. I think if Microsoft can get things together and focus on the business segment and let the casual users go they can restructure and rebound. I don’t think Windows will ever be taken down my external forces, it’s just too strong of a brand and with good reason, but internal forces at Microsoft and their lack of focus is what is really damaging the Windows brand more than anything else. I think in the near term Microsoft is going to make some major changes, especially if Steam Machines do take off. Of course those could just be another footnote in gaming history much like the failed 3DO which was a similar attempt at the same type of thing over 20 years ago. I think the market is more fragmented now than ever, even more so than the 80’s when we had Atari, Apple, IBM, and Commodore all as major players. Now we have Microsoft and Apple thats pretty much it, Google has made strides but their Chrome OS is a joke and Android is still only for Tablets and Smartphone so until/unless they ever get a full desktop/laptop version of Android they will not be a major player in that market. However Windows could always continue gaining marketshare in the smart devices area and turn things around that way. My view is that the industry is facing some challenges adapting to these new devices consumers have and this increasingly segmented market.
I can see Steam Machines taking off simply because as the guy who buys desktops quit often for gaming I am considering one and I now others who are interested as well. I think Steam Machines will take the gaming segment and Tablets and game consoles, smart TVs, etc, will continue to shrink the causal market that will just leave the business market and the tinkerers who generally gravitate towards Linux anyways. I do agree that Microsoft and Windows are facing some challenging times ahead, I try to look at all possible outcomes but as a business student I also know where the market is going and I try to adjust accordingly.