Worldwide computer sales declined by 10 per cent in 2013, the most severe yearly contraction on record. What is the reason? Could it be that Windows 8 is a barrier to upgrade? Can we wait for Windows 9?
Figures from both IDC and Gartner for worldwide PC shipments for the fourth quarter of 2013 are now available and confirm the predictions made earlier in the year of a record-breaking slump.
For the seventh quarter in a row the number of units from PC manufacturers was significantly reduced from the same quarter a year ago - by 6.9% according to Gartner but only 5.6% according to IDC.
Commenting on the continued decline on a worldwide basis Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner said:
"Strong growth in tablets continued to negatively impact PC growth in emerging markets. In emerging markets, the first connected device for consumers is most likely a smartphone, and their first computing device is a tablet. As a result, the adoption of PCs in emerging markets will be slower as consumers skip PCs for tablets."
There were , however, some signs for optimism especially outside the US. Isabelle Durand, principal research analyst at Gartner. commented:
"The decline was less steep than the previous seven quarters, and we even saw PC shipments increase 17.7 percent over the previous quarter in EMEA,"
She attributed the improvement in consumer sales of laptops and ultrabooks that led to quarter-over-quarter growth to the availability of more hybrid ultramobiles at lower price points, which put pressure on the premium tablet market, adding:
"This confirms the ongoing transition in the market, but it may also signal that we are reaching the end of a period of readjustment in EMEA that started two years ago."
Both Gartner and IDC pointed to the fact that consumers continued to delay making purchases but IDC noted that in both the US and EMEA migration from XP contributed to some momentum in the enterprise sector.
The end of support for Windows XP should be exerting strong pressure to upgrade but it appears to be outweighed by reluctance to move to Windows 8. Having missed the opportunity to upgrade to Windows 7, will business customers now try to wait until the next major version of Windows.
Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott has recenly blogged that the next version of Windows is due to ship in April 2015.
April 2015 seems a long way off in terms of a contracting market. The delay could well be enough to finish Windows off as an important development environment. Surely Microsoft could produce another patch that made desktop users happy as well as tablet and touch screen users. It isn't a big jump - make the start menu and start screen optional and if possible allow WinRT apps to run windowed in the desktop. These changes don't need deep modifications to the OS.
Currently codenamed "Threshold" Windows 9 will be discussed at the BUILD developer conference in April 2014, and is likely to be called Windows 9. It is also likely that among the changes it introduces to Windows it will include a windowed mode start screen and WinRT apps that work on the desktop - the very thing that I Programmer has been advocating since before the launch of Windows 8.
Looking at how Windows 8 is evolving Thurrott goes on to say:
But Threshold is more important than any specific updates. Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public, and the latest release, Windows 8.1, which is a substantial and free upgrade with major improvements over the original release, is in use on less than 25 million PCs at the moment. That's a disaster, and Threshold needs to strike a better balance between meeting the needs of over a billion traditional PC users while enticing users to adopt this new Windows on new types of personal computing devices. In short, it needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not.
Delivering a damning verdict, especially as it comes from a loyal Microsoft supporter Thurrott continues:
In some ways, the most interesting thing about Threshold is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista. It's an acknowledgment that what came before didn't work, and didn't resonate with customers. And though Microsoft will always be able to claim that Windows 9 wouldn't have been possible without the important foundational work they had done first with Windows 8—just as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows Vista—there's no way to sugarcoat this. Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.
So, as customers, instead of a countdown to the end of support for Windows XP Microsoft should provide us with a widget to count the days until the release of Windows 9 and just hope that there are still PC manufacturers out there to revitalize the desktop PC.
And for developers keep a close eye on what happens at BUILD 2014, registration for which is now open. It is very unlikely that Microsoft will have anything to show us by then, but they might be listening!