Inspired by Mark Wilson's blog post, I couldn't keep from writing another word or two about the 'new' post-PC era.
Latest posts by Michael Pietroforte (see all)

I wonder what enters the minds of those prominent PC doomsayers, like Steve Jobs, when they read that a developer preview of Windows 8 was downloaded 500,000 times in 16 hours and the media went nuts, pushing out myriad reviews on one day even before a beta version is in sight. How can this huge interest in an operating system for a dying, or at least unimportant, device type be explained?

I think the explanation is easy. Microsoft just reinvented the PC once again. The PC as we have known it since Windows 95 is indeed dead. Many are surprised. I am not. More than a year ago, I published an article with the title "My Windows 8 wish list – No more evolution please!" One of my biggest wishes was that Microsoft gets rid of the Start Menu. Well, it can still be revived, of course, but this is an important and expected step.

Don't think that I have more insight into what goes on behind Microsoft's walls than any other blogger. MVPs sometimes have access to information that is not available publicly. But these are only technical details of minor importance that Microsoft will usually publish a few days later anyway. I am also certainly not one of these smart analysts who can predict that in 2020 everyone will have a smartphone.

My source of information was not Microsoft. I had much better sources. The most prominent one was Steve Jobs. Joe Wilcox thinks that Steven Sinofsky is the new Steve Jobs. In a way, he is right; ever since Steve Jobs stepped down, Microsoft lost one of its best consultants and Steven Sinofsky excellently followed the last advice of the grand Apple master and ended the PC era.

Of course, Steve Jobs was not the only unpaid consultant who worked hard for Microsoft. Just on the first day of the BUILD conference, I read a comment by the blogger Doug Barney about VMware's CEO Paul Maritz, who also claimed that the days of the PC are numbered.

Doug cites two other important Microsoft consultants: Larry Ellison and Scot McNealy. Larry Ellison wanted to kill the PC with the NC (Network Computer), and Scot McNealy wanted to do so with Java. I don't want to bore you again with a long list of failed PC doomsayers. But I need those examples to make my point.

What do you think happens if one of those IT masterminds steps out into the public and boasts that he finally found the technology that will force Microsoft to its knees? If you ask Microsoft officials what they think about such claims, they will just hint at their last record quarter and that you can't take those rants seriously. And what do you think happens behind the walls? Rest assured that they will dissect every little piece of information they can get from their public advisors. It usually doesn't take long for you to see the fruits of this consultancy.

Larry Ellison's NC concept was transformed into the RDP protocol and the Terminal Server (with the help of Citrix), and Java resulted in the .NET framework. Both technologies gave Windows and the PC another decisive boost.

But Microsoft doesn't just have such prominent unpaid consultants. There are myriad Microsoft opponents who bombard Redmond all day with criticism, telling the company for decades that its days are counted.

The Linux community is a good example. Their public consultancy resulted in many important new Windows technologies that helped Microsoft extend their dominance in the desktop and server market. PowerShell, Server Manager, and Server Core are the latest examples.

Remember the "get Firefox campaign" and Mozilla's main claim that Internet Explorer is insecure? Independent Data confirms now that IE is less vulnerable than other browsers. But my favorite were those countless benchmark tests that were supposed to show that IE is slow. Ever since IE is the fastest browser those weekly benchmark tests have disappeared. Yes, IE is still losing market share. But wait until a few more unpaid consultants tell Microsoft that IE has a "slow" user interface.

You might object that the public discussion of technologies is normal and that all companies use this kind of information to improve their products. This is true; however, no other company like Microsoft has so many smart and enthusiastic critics who push Redmond to the limit by relentlessly saying that this new super cool technology will mean Microsoft’s end.

Do you remember this popular quote from Marc Andreessen (Netscape co-founder) in 1995?

Netscape will soon reduce Windows to a poorly debugged set of device drivers.

What do you think would have happened if he hadn’t boasted publicly that his web browser will make Windows obsolete? Simple answer. Netscape would still be around and probably a dominant player in the IT market and Microsoft would have needed a year or two longer to understand the importance of the web.

It is difficult to say what makes those smart guys step out prematurely and claim to be able to make the Redmond giant fall. They are probably not driven by strategy but by their emotions. Perhaps some of them believe they are prominent enough, so self-fulfilling prophecy will help their dream come true. They think if they proclaim the death of the PC often enough that many will follow and turn away from Microsoft. However, history has shown numerous times that this strategy doesn't work at all. I believe it produces just the opposite effect. I am pretty sure, if Redmond ever falls, no IT celebrity will have predicted  it beforehand.

Windows 8 is the latest example. Steve Jobs should have known better. He was the first who stole the idea of the graphical user interface from Xerox PARC, and Paul Allen was only second. He should have known that once Microsoft understands what kind of new technology will dominate the IT market, the company will be restless until it has the most successful implementation. This was Microsoft’s strategy right from the beginning, with the first lines of code Bill Gates and Paul Allen were writing for their Altair BASIC.

Nothing has changed. The PC has already died many times. The "Altair PC" was killed by the IBM PC, Apple's Lisa and the Macintosh killed the DOS-based PC, and the iPad killed the Windows 95-based PC.

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The PC is dead, long live the PC! Long live Windows 8!

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5 Comments
  1. Ingmar 10 years ago

    Excellent analysis Michael, you're on to something.

    Thank you.

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  2. Thanks, Ingmar.

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  3. pc7wiz 10 years ago

    Well, Win8 looks cute on that tablet, but on a desktop it's a showstopper. Really??? Come on! If I wanted a MAC I'd buy one!

    M$ is getting ready to push the power user into the Linux world with it's smartphone interface. I already use OpenOffice and I don't miss M$ Office at all!!! I have full compatibility for my documents and daily move them between Win XP (work) and Win 7 w/OO!!!

    So I really don't care for the "new" Win 8 GUI, and will not be rushing out to spend my cash on it.

    Really??? M$??? Really???

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  4. Stefan 10 years ago

    If thats an analysis than a fuzzy one:

    Why did Microsoft "reinvent the PC"? They took a poor touch-UI and mixed it with a their Desktop-UI. The result is that they neither good. It like connecting a mouse to an ipad and thinking now its a desktop PC. It doesn't fit no matter how hard you try.

    I really hope this is not the limit of microsoft (where critics pushed them to). But hey, they even learned web install with windows 8, almost 20 years after the www. So everything is possible!

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  5. Stefan, your argument is good. It remains indeed to be seen if a desktop/laptop UI can live together with a tablet UI on the same machine. It depends on how well Microsoft can integrate both worlds. Maybe the first attempt will fail, but that is no real problem because they have plenty of attempts considering that nowadays tablet OSes lack too many features to replace Windows. I think what makes computers so powerful is that they are multipurpose machines. Thus in theory it should be possible to build a machine that is good for both worlds. I believe this machine will run Windows.

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