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back to article Hey doc, what's the PC's prognosis? A. Long-term growth below zero

The worldwide PC market suffered the "most severe contraction on record" in 2013, which means it is doing better than expected, analyst house IDC said on Tuesday. PC and laptop shipments declined by 9.8 per cent in 2013, the firm revealed – and it projected further year-on-year declines through to 2014. 315 million PCs and …

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PCs are now workstations?

The days of the PC as a consumer device are gone. It will live on as a workstation though, both in business and in the home, especially if we count serious PC gaming as a form of work-level usage, rather than just something purely casual. For all the casual stuff, the phones, tablets and consoles can do and are happily doing the job.

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Re: PCs are now workstations?

Bingo. And people aren't refreshing their professional workstations for several reasons.

1) What they have is good enough.

2) Nothing is really compelling enough to trigger an upgrade asynchronously of system death.

3) Professionals don't want Fisher Price toy operating systems

4) The transition to the far more expensive "cloud" versions of software is not enticing. doubly so because this is just paying more money so that DRM can be added, without providing anything of value to the customer.

5) Once burned, twice shy: what value is there to the customer in buying into the new "perpetual upgrade" your-wallet-as-a-service PC ecosystem when new software versions regularly ship with undesired and undesirable changes?

While this doesn't cover everyone, of course, I think by now it's pretty safe to say that the majority of PC users are quite happy with what we've got for PCs and simply aren't enticed by the new stuff on offer.

At some point, you need to admit that you've reached Peak Hammer. Trying to reinvent the hammer isn't going to shift more hammers. You'll still sell hammers, but the design isn't going to evolve much. Hammers will be chosen based on quality and price and that's it.

You can go forth an invent the jackhammer, but that's a fundamentally different device. You can invent the screw and screw driver, but again, it's a fundamentally different device with a different purpose.

There's also the point where we need to accept that the screw driver and hammer are destined to be two different devices. You don't build a house with a leatherman. Markets evolve. You can't slap multiple tools together and hope you can keep your margins high. When you've reached peak hammer then it's time to accept margins on that tool will evaporate. You need to diversify: make a diversity of tools and make up the margin loss in volume.

Or, get the hell out of tool manufacturing all together and move on to something else. Either way, the halcyon days of short refresh cycles, mass shipments and high margins are behind hte PC industry. They won't be coming back.

Like the hammer, if you want to sell this common professional tool you are now going to have to compete on quality and price. Which, to put it bluntly, means Microsoft's PC division is pretty much fucked.

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Re: PCs are now workstations?

"if you want to sell this common professional tool"

You'll also need to adhere to common standards as well, I'd suggest

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Re: PCs are now workstations? Peak Hammers

The normal trick at peak Hemmer Time is to monopolise the market or form a cartel and then produce hammers that need replacing a lot. And take out patents on rivets and screw and sit on them.

Almost every company I've visited still thinks hammers are necessary to build small sheds when pre-fab tower blocks are available for free.

If you hire someone who can read the instructions though most are good with hammers and like sore thumbs.

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Re: PCs are now workstations?

My 2008 Dell Precision T5400 with twin quad core 3Ghz Xeons will Wprime in 7 seconds. How much faster do I need to go?

I guess I could go on Ebay and buy a couple of slightly faster Xeons for £60 and get it down to 6 but in reality the times those 8 cores go over 50% usage are pretty rare.

I also must have regions of that 16GB of ram that have never been touched, maybe whole banks even.

Get the picture?

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Re: PCs are now workstations?

I agree, with one caveat, I find, although I have a tablet and a smartphone, that I still put a lot of tasks off until I can sit in front of a proper screen.

A smartphone and tablet are great for doing simple tasks on the move, that have to be done immediately, but for more intense work, I'll wait until I get to a real PC with a decent sized screen and proper input devices.

With projected displays and better input methods on mobile devices, this might change over time, but if I need to type more than a line or two of text, if it can wait, it waits until I can sit at a proper keyboard, for example.

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Re: PCs are now workstations?

"Professionals don't want Fisher Price toy operating systems"

One of the main reasons I held out getting a tablet, until Windows tablets finally made the grade. I looked at Android and iOS, but they just didn't feel professional.

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Re: PCs are now workstations?

> Get the picture?

Yep. The implication is that there are two things which could get PC sales moving again: planned obsolescence, and new compelling & computing-heavy tasks. Anything a cellphone or pad can do, is not a job for a PC, and since people currently mainly want to surf, watch video, and possibly play Commodore64-level games like Angry Birds, that leaves very little for a PC to do.

There are some upcoming tasks which will require beefy hardware (gaming at 4K resolution and/or gaming with 3D headsets), but since Microsoft (and presumably Apple) is intent on switching to portable devices they are not looking for tasks to justify the continued existence of the consumer PC.

In fact, no one is. The gaming industry intends to shift gaming, the only computationally demanding task left for home PCs, to console-like media centers/media servers.

The PC has run out of jobs to do. Who'd ever have thunk it?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: PCs are now workstations?

The key thing is, PC's today are very powerful, they are cheap and they are small...

The no push to upgrade like there used to be, basically there is a diminishing return on upgrading..

the only real need for a very high spec PC is if your gaming...

I suspect in a few years, especially if Ubuntu get their way, we will see a merging of phone & desktop...

Your phone will do the processing, the dock will give you a bigger interface...

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Re: PCs are now workstations?

My PC is not dying soon, but I can see a future need to replace it. Why? I'm currently streaming games etc to 2 other devices. No, a "server" will not do unless I can fit a Titan in there for some gaming GPU number crunching. Ok, I probably could, but currently a desktop gives me the streaming capability of paid for services, for half the price of a subscription or an expensive dedicated server.

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Re: PCs are now workstations?

The PC generates all content and remains the digital workhorse of society, and anyone who thinks it is going away, including Gartner, probably invested all their money in lastminute.com in 1999.

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Re: New Hammer

Stanley did design a new hammer. Since nobody uses hammers to knock in nails anymore (they have nail guns) they designed a hammer for all the prying, lifting, nudging, breaking and percussive maintenance tasks that hammers are still used for.

It's been very successful

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"I think PCs will be effected by those changes and react to the extent that they can."

No.

PC's might be affected by the change (and I hope they will, actually), but they will certainly not be effected by change.

Please do not fall into the same potholes that affect the common commenter. When you pen an article, you're supposed to set an example. Set the right one.

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Re: "I think PCs will be effected by those changes and react to the extent that they can."

Why did you put a grocer's apostrophe in PCs?

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Good question :)

Didn't catch that. My bad.

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Anonymous Coward

A lot depends on how

Microsoft manages to make Windows 8+ a consumer operating system. There's no doubt the current Windows 8.1 hybrids are highly versatile, and 8.1 makes Windows usable with a mouse again (at least if you have a touch enabled mouse). But at the moment they're lacking some of the iPad's usability touches, and there's a dearth of modern, touch enabled applications.

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"8.1 makes Windows usable with a mouse again (at least if you have a touch enabled mouse). "

And that is the final link in the chain that damns Microsoft to the circles of Hell for all eternity.

There will be no ghosts visiting you this XMas, Scrooge McBallmer - you're doomed.

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You don't know what you've got 'til its gone

Where do you think all those torrented films are located?

All those music tracks - you aren't going to stream them all from the net to your phone - you need something to sync with.

Photo's go from phone to fb - true, but mostly the unimportant ones. A lot of them go from iphone to... iphoto. Certainly anyone with any sense isn't using fb as a hard disk for their wedding photos.

The PC will stay, but it may will hide as a server or an AIO which doesn't appear to be used that much.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You don't know what you've got 'til its gone

I completely agree, but I think there won't be any market growth coming out of this.

Consider: There are two types of users. (A) Sophisticated tech users, who want a PC or server, to use for photos, music, what have you you. (B) Unsophisticated users who don't care about any of that - they are happy to use facebook as a hard drive to use your words.

Type A users in the developed world already have a PC or server.

And there are many (perhaps more?) Type B users, who either have a PC because they bought it before tablets/smartphones came out (and hardly ever use it) or don't and don't care.

Now as developing countries increase their economic power, many new Type A users will come onto the market. But on the other hand there are lots of Type B users in the developed world who will never replace their PC, they'll get a tablet instead.

So in the end, growth is something the PC market will not see again, unless they come up with a step change in technology.

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Due to mobile and tablets?

"The PC market is in the doldrums due to the rise of, you guessed it, mobile phones and tablets, Loverde explained."

Really? I've *still* not seen evidence of this! I've seen evidence of people owning laptops that work well enough (a Core 2 Duo is as useful now to the average person using it at home as it was when it came out), and adding a tablet to the mix as well. Look at businesses. We replaced first edition C2D machines here after 6 years of use with i5s. They'll last at least as long, probably longer to be honest! In the past, we replaced every 4 years...

PC longevity has increased due to performance increases outstripping requirements.

I really wish analysts would pay attention to the fact that correlation and causation are not the same thing.

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PCs are doing fine.

Consumers purchasing toys not withstanding.

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First derivative

The number of newly shipped PCs tells up nothing about the size of the installed base. All it says is that it is not growing as fast as previously - it could still be growing, or it could be shrinking but this data cannot tell us which. And since there are no figures for the number of units that get junked, or just switched off and left in a corner there is no easy way to know that number (it can be inferred, but that's just another word for "guessed").

So all we have is something akin to a measure of airspeed. On its own it tells us nothing about how far we've traveled - and without knowing the speed of the air we're in: head, tail or cross wind we can't even say if we're going backwards or not.

File under: insufficient data, Captain.

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Paris Hilton

Okay, let me see...

Get a new PC, new operating system, new all-in-one scanner-printer-copier-fax thingy, might need to get another laser printer just to keep printing costs down, might as well change pc desk and storage (I've been meaning to move those blank DVDs, CDs for a while now - might get round to it?)

Oh and maybe another external disk device for local backups.

Or, if it ain't broke don't fix it: keep the present ecosystem?

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It's always puzzled me.

"people take a picture with their phone and it's immediately on the web"

While yeah, that is true, I've never understood it. Do people really not give a shit about the image quality? Or is it that since they're never going to see the picture on a bigger than 5" screen they don't care that it looks like cack on a bigger monitor?

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Re: It's always puzzled me.

Thats always the issue for me. It seems 'younger' folks are content with a picture shown as a 640x480 placement on a webpage.

"Looks great!" they all say!

Then you take those smartphone 8MP files and look at them full size and its noise city. I really dont know why everyone still craves higher MP on these things when my 2004 3.2MP Nikon still produces better pictures than even the 12MP+ smartphone monsters.

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Re: It's always puzzled me.

Not just a megapixel issue - a lens size / flash type one too. I see time and again how absolutely crappily blurry do pics tend to turn out in an indoors / poorly-lit environment (like, say... pubs) yet people cannot seem to get enough of those around me - granted, they look perfectly fine on a mobile's tiny screen. Until you zoom in...

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Re: It's always puzzled me.

I think the same thing was said about that new fangled 35mm stuff.

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I use my PC for...

Playing old games on emulators and no touch screen can replace that control mechanism and no tablet/phone can replace a big screen feel and playing a modified Cannon Fodder on the Amiga with all the names changed to Microsoft/Apple/Google employees! Priceless fun...endless replayability!

Stuck in a walled garden you would lose the chance to customize like this...I love Linux!

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The real trend

Is that casual users are buying new tablets etc, and leaving the old PC to gather dust.

The old desktop or laptop still gets used for the essentials (typing documents, printing tickets, the occasional bit of homework etc), but they are putting up with the heap of shit because the tablet is good enough, most of the time.

And why would you use a computer that takes 2-3 minutes to start, is much harder to use and maintain, when a charged-up tablet can achieve almost the same thing in a few seconds?

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Re: The real trend

So why aren't they making/ selling PCs that don't take 3 minutes to start? It's not hard. You just replace the HD with an SSD. (120Gb is plenty, and for folks who need more, just plug in a USB3 Terabyte or two).

Once you've done that, get rid of all the fans (passive-cooling) so it's silent, and you then don't have to boot it except after major software upgrades or power cuts. You just turn off the monitor and let it go to sleep. Whenever you want, press a key and turn on the monitor. It's ready in a few seconds.

I've built myself such a system around a Gigabyte GA-C1037UN-EU board. Yes, it's a "slow" CPU, but quite fast enough for everything I use except a few games (for which I have a second PC). Can I buy a similar system without DIY assembly? I don't think so.

Lack of imagination at the hardware vendors is a part of their problem. What I can't do is integrate the passively-cooled PC into the monitor (which has a conveniently large area for a heatsink on the back), thereby saving a power supply and a lot of wires. Possibly also throw in a TV tuner, if TV tuners are as cheap as I think they might be.

I could get started on the state of laptops ... where can I buy a PC laptop with a 15in high-res screen, without taking out a second mortgage? The screens exist - you can buy a small TV with such a screen, for not a lot of money.

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For me, as soon as SSD's became "proper" affordable, my bi-yearly PC-updating exercise has been on indefinite hiatus.

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Ex-Corporate is the way to go

The home PC market may be shrinking, but the business market doesn't seem to be I'm in a Uni with a 20-30 thousand strong PC base, and we continue to upgrade annually. Even though our students are bringing in less laptops and more tablets, they still need to produce their work on the Windows desktop.

I need to replace two ageing P4's at home before XP goes to the dogs in April, and although components and ready-built boxes are cheaper than I've seen them for a long time, I've also seen a boom in ex-corporate online sales. In fact it looks like that's best and cheapest option for my upgrades before April - two ex-corporate base units, with RAM & Win7 Pro licences, for about £500 all in. That's £250 each!

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We're losing more than what most realise...

I kind of buy the premise that low cost mobile devices like tablets and smartphones are replacing PCs for many everyday uses and thus educing the PC market's growth to nil.

I think to an extent this makes a lot of sense. Why should someone with the most rudimentary needs e.g. my mom, buy a PC when all she wants is email and surfing the web.

On the other hand, there's a lot of value lost in this transition. PC's were "discovery devices" by virtue of being all purpose computing devices. I first got my hands on one in my teens and it drove me to learn about science, technology, programming, video and audio editing, photography and lots of other interests I developed over they years. This was all IMO down to the fact the PC was an all purpose platform on which I could experiment and apply what I was learning.

I think tablets (which I love) are essentially consumption devices (at least so far). There's very little you can actually do ON them, experiment on or try new things. So as new PC sales are diverted towards tablets, a lot of people, especially younger ones are likely to lose out on this opportunity.

Of course you might say that no one stops you from buying a PC if you need it, but sometimes you don't see the value of something, until you actually have. I felt that way about the portability of tablets - I couldn't believe how important it was until I used it - and I feel that way about the "exploratory abilities" of PC's.

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Re: We're losing more than what most realise...

Microsoft shut the door on hobbyist programming a long time ago. They wanted users clueless and brainwashed to buy MS. The accomplished the first part, something went wrong for them with the second :-)

These days your best discovery device is an old (or ancient, or even new) PC running Linux if you are happy with pure software, or a Rasberry Pi if you want to hack hardware. When I learned to hack hardware, the box I was hacking cost about ten times a Rasberry Pi, and a pound was worth more back then!

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Other factors at play

In addition to the factors listed in the article, it also has to do with:

1) Moore's law running out of steam in terms of single-thread performance and the fact most software is still not optimized for multicore. Why upgrade when you will hardly get any performance benefits? Swapping out a SSD for a hard drive is the only upgrade that makes sense for most, and it doesn't require replacing the whole PC.

2) Versions of Windows since XP have been more reliable thanks to the NT underpinnings, and thus suffer less from the bit-rot older Windows experienced. They take longer to get unusable, and thus one of the main spurs to replacing the PC has gone.

3) Software ani-piracy measures like activation have made it more of a chore to migrate to the new PC.

4) PCs are not subsidized like smartphones in exchange for 2-year contract lock-in. That leaves less money for marketing and in-store placement.

5) Mobile Internet connectivity has improved (the AT&T LTE I get at home in San Francisco is much faster than the AT&T DSL I have to endure). This reduces the necessity of using a home computer. At the same time, most laptops ship without a wireless WAN adapter, and even when they include one, carriers won't offer plans as attractive as those available on smartphones and tablets, the assumption being laptop users will consume more bandwidth.

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Gloomy winter of the PC or Springtime in mobile

How you look at it is up to you, but change is happening.

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