back to article Let's praise Surface, not bury it

Yes, I know the new Surface kit unveiled by Microsoft (hands-on and roundup) is both lavishly over-engineered and ludicrously expensive. You know that. We all know that. But that's not the point. The Surface extravaganza is a good thing. Faced with a mortal threat, Microsoft is doing something it should have done years ago – …

Silver badge
Thumb Down

Your looking at the market wrong

The market for selling PC kit might be slowing down, but market usage of PC's is not. The fact of the matter is that anyone in the developed world who wants a computer has one. The market has reached saturation, and it has been at that point for a while. In the past, despite market saturation, people regularly upgraded because new programs required better hardware to run. However, that is not the case anymore. The latest AAA games can all be played on 3-5 year old Hardware (unless you absolutely needed every graphical setting on max). So the Need to upgrade is gone, and now the replacement cycle is much slower. The market is not going away it is merely recalibrating to the new reality where new Hardware does not offer the significant increases of previous generations.

Comparing this to Smartphone and tablets is not a like for like comparison of where the market stands now. Every new generation of tablet brings significant gains in usage, power and abilities. As such, the upgrade cycle is fast and it is selling well, eventually it too will hit the same saturation and Performance drop off curve but it hasnt yet.

Smartphone sales are dropping back (just look at Apple's recent sales show) and the reason is that they have now hit that saturation point, each new generation of smartphone doesnt really bring any huge benfits, the phone is only slightly faster, with slightly more memory, slightly less weight. And its safe to say everyone who wants a smart phone by now, has one already. The upgrade cycle is now getting longer, new phones are only purchased when old ones die rather then on the previous regular basis. This is just the new reality.

The current market realities were always going to occur, market saturation was inevitable, we should be congratulating the PC firms for getting a PC in almost every household, but they should never have expected to continue to sell us a new PC every year, if they werent able to maintain the massive Speed increases that fueled those yearly PC sales...

88
1
Silver badge

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

You know you can tell Tech Journalists that till you are blue in the face but they never learn.

They seem to think that all the PCs bought in 2015 will be thrown out a year later and so on.

I don't know where they get such odd ideas.

I do a roaring trade selling refurb 2012 kit to small businesses. Not many people need powerful or 2016 spec kit to work on Excel and send emails.

45
0
Silver badge
Holmes

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

Have an upvote! You are so totally right!

A long time ago, when I was a wee tyke, new car models were a BIG DEAL. People got excited about the new car models coming out each year. Very many people (including my father) bought a new car every three years. Why? Because back then cars wore out faster than today, and the new cars were often significantly better (as well as being styled differently - a bit of planned obsolescence there) than the older cars.

It was an upgrade cycle, the same thing that drove PC buying in the 90's, what with upgrades from 286 to 386 to 486, etc., each of which was a significant improvement over what went before. (And driven also by MS's tendency to bloat their software to the point it barely ran -- until you upgraded. I well remember successive versions of MS Office bogging down until the hardware upgrade.) That's not the case with cars or PCs anymore, hence the "knee" in the growth curve where it flattens out.

17
2

'You're looking at the market wrong' [fixed]

[overcoming shoddy educational practice one post at a time: 'your' is a possessive pronoun; 'you're' is a contraction of 'you are' -- completely different meanings]

:-)

19
6
Silver badge

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

Yeah it was crazy time from 1993 to around 2005. You could upgrade every 3-4 months and still not have enough power to do what you wanted. I remember one year I upgraded my CPU 5 times! Then the 64bit dual cores arrived and it just nosedived from there. It's now 3-4 years between CPU upgrades.

In fact had SSD's been mainstream back in 2002 say a lot of those CPU upgrades may not have been required as a slow PC wasn't always the CPU.

7
0
Silver badge

Re: Because back then cars wore out faster than today,

No, that's not why your dad replaced his car every three years.

Your dad replaced his car every three years because that was the inflection point at which the depreciation reality crossed the maintenance needs plot and produced "good money after bad" syndrome.

The same economics are in place today. Cars don't last longer today. Indeed, they often are more expensive to make last longer because so many of the parts are tear-out-and-replace instead of repair items.

I'll pick two examples out of thin air:

Alternators cost about 700 bux to replace, but the bit that has usually failed is in the so-called rectifier pack and would cost about 10 cents to replace if the rectifier packs were not now heat/chemically welded plastic modules riveted to the alternator casing. This I have done.

The instrument cluster and dashboard lighting assemblies are now typically a two-foot wide single electronic board, massively integrated. Used to be if the speedo light went out you could, with the loss of a weekend and some class four Words of Power, fix it for under five bux. Now you are looking at a garage job and a few hundred bux in parts and labor.

About the only thing that could kill a car in The Old Days was rust. Eventually your mini could not get through the MOT because the lugs that held the subframes to the floorpan would be rotted through and there was not enough good steel left to make new ones.

These days the electronics become obsolete and that's all she wrote. My car recently stopped turning off its headlights when I removed the ignition key because a relay gave out after 13 years of sterling service. The fix? Replace the fuse box (the relay is, like that alternator rectifier pack, part of the fusebox assembly rather than bolted to it). The problem? The fusebox is no longer a stocked part because the design changed 12 years ago. No, they still have a molded-in integral relay, they just changed the shape of the fusebox.

So a bit less sneering at the Old Man if you please.

15
12
Anonymous Coward

Re: Because back then cars wore out faster than today,

Used to be if the speedo light went out you could, with the loss of a weekend and some class four Words of Power, fix it for under five bux.

At least we kept the class four Words of Power for IT :)

6
0

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

I suspect smartphones will keep outselling PC's even when the same level of saturation is reached. They get dropped on pavement or in toilets, lost in trains, stolen etc more often.

10
0
Silver badge
Pint

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

"I do a roaring trade selling refurb 2012 kit to small businesses. Not many people need powerful or 2016 spec kit to work on Excel and send emails."

Upvote not enough so see icon. Margins must be razor thin though surely?

6
1
Silver badge
Devil

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

"The market for selling PC kit might be slowing down, but market usage of PC's is not."

And the choir said, *AMEN*!!!

/me has been saying that for a while.

The PC market is a DERIVATIVE, not an INTEGRAL, of PC usage.

Looking at new PC sales to represent "the PC market" is like falling from a building and reaching terminal velocity, and THEN saying "Oh, we're not FALLING any more" because your velocity is not increasing.

Unfortunately, Micro-shaft derives their REVENUE from NEW SALES, which is why they panic and release things like Windows "Ape" and Win-10-nic, and virtually ABANDON 7 and earlier. It doesn't make THEM money. What they fail to realize is that THEIR OWN ACTIONS help to KILL the 'new PC' sales.

7
4
Silver badge

Re: Words of Power.

Nothing to do with computers is worth more than a class two, and only then under extreme stress.

1
0
Thumb Up

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

"They seem to think that all the PCs bought in 2015 will be thrown out a year later and so on."

"Have an upvote! You are so totally right!"

Have yet another upvote!

I have argued this same thing for years.

To point: I now use an Sun Ultra 24 with an Intel Core2 Quad Q9550 with 8Gb RAM, the NVidia Quadro FX370 that camer with it + 4*72Gb SAS1 drives with a LSI 1068E PCI-E controller. It's an 'ancient' 7+ year old rig and I'm quite happy with it.

If it wasn't for Sun users being hostage (no supoport, no BIOS files available, etc.) to Oracle things wolud be just perfect.

Runs Mint 18 64bit with anything I need.

And this only because the Linux kernel dropped support for all my older hardware, which worked just fine but now I can have VirtualBox 5 for the specific stuff I need XP for.

Cheers.

2
1
Silver badge

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

Inclined to agree with the posters here, we have i3 desktops at work, and they don't need a massive upgrade, they could do with a bit more ram (they came with min ram config), because we use a lot of web apps like google docs and multiple tabs eats memory but that's it really the only other thing that would be nice would be larger screens.

Home PC, that's been ticking over nicely on an i5, geforce 560 and SSD for ages (I agree jason the SSD is definitely a game changer) , and it runs anything up to xcom2 and elite not fussed enough about ultra HD settings to need to upgrade they are more than good enough, possibly if I bought some of the latest AA titles it might but doubt it (and not enough of a gamer to care), only upgrade that had recently was a shiny new screen.

Only real PC purchase I have made this year was a new laptop because I needed one, even then I did not shop for an i7, a decent i5 with SSD has been fine, in fact it boots ridiculously quick, quicker than my phone.

I remember the constant upgrade cycle, comparing which chip was better between AMD and intel, flip flopping between radeons and geforce to get that last bit of grunt out of a PC to make it usable for a new title or to keep up with the latest software, it's just not needed anymore, office has been fine since office 2010, CAD I do not use the hardcore enough end of it to need to care beyond CAD running 2013 model, and I suspect the average photoshop user is probably quite comfortable with a version a few years back for everything they do.

Barring the average reg reader or hardcore gamer, I am probably more demanding of a decent PC than 90% of users out there.

I don't miss the upgrade cycle, my bank balance certainly doesn't.

5
0
cd

Re: 'You're looking at the market wrong' [fixed]

Yer obsessed.

0
0
E 2

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

There was no more room for wait instructions in MS's program binaries.

2
0
Bronze badge
Coat

Re: Words of Power.

I tend to *invent* new Words of Power when I'm trying to resurrect failed equipment, usually because the CIO (or worse, the entire company) is beating down my door wondering why their email isn't going through... :)

Mine's the one with the journal with black covers titled 'An Incomplete Dictionary of the Obscene and Profane' in the front pocket

3
0
Silver badge

@Office..

"I well remember successive versions of MS Office bogging down until the hardware upgrade."

Yeah, now it's just successive versions of Office bogging down with each SOFTWARE upgrade :)

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

I make at least £100 a box profit.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

"lavishly over-engineered and ludicrously expensive"

It seems to work for Apple.

The best device I think Microsoft released was the "Microsoft Surface Studio" which is an awesome bit of kit and "out Apples Apple"...

1
1
Silver badge

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

Invariably I've found the best upgrades for old work PCs are simply SSDs, breaths new life into them as most these days have a reasonably dual core (or better) CPU and 4GB of RAM.

£60 upgrade, no need to replace the PC until it's beyond economic repair. 4 year replacement cycles in work will gradually disappear I think as more things are done on web portals etc and SSDs boost performance on local applications.

1
0

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

Couldn't agree more.

I cant understand why the people who are supposed to be following state of our industry cant see beyond a single metric. The PC is ubiquitous - no longer shiny or sexy, but not going anywhere.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Because back then cars wore out faster than today,

I think you're confusing reliability with repairability.

Back in the day, my dad could repair his Ford Prefect with a hammer and a spare part, and spare parts were cheap. But he was repairing it monthly, and parts were cheap because of volume sales to all the other dads with a hammer. Eminently repairable, but not reliable. We kept a toolkit (and a few of the more common spares) in the boot for that reason.

These days - no chance. Spares cost serious money, and it takes a full workshop to access some parts. But they don't fail as often (even if you hate yourself and buy a land rover). Eminently reliable, but not easily repairable. I only have a jack in my boot, for that reason.

(Also, if you're finding it hard to get parts for a 12 year old car, blame the lawyers - manufacturers only have to support old models for 10 years. There are scrap yards though).

1
0
Silver badge
Pint

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

@jason 7

"I make at least £100 a box profit."

So you are turning the boxes round in 2 to 3 hours max including delivery and installation? Impressive. Best of luck.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: I think you're confusing reliability with repairability.

Yah, no I'm not.

Anyone wanting a quick lesson in this need only study the Haines manual for any car in the late 70s with a similar car in the 1990s, and give a relative count of the "no user serviceable parts" pages.

I was fully prepared to swap out or repair the gearbox on my old but great-in-the-snow Excel until I discovered that there were no consumer-mechanic manuals that would explain how to go about the task.

And I have a couple of colleagues who would like to dispute the reliability and repairability of their Ford Explorers, both of which lost the electronic dashboards inside a year of purchase to intermittent faults in the illumination gubbins that the dealers wouldn't touch because of the sheer costs involved - until the Lemon Law was waved at each.

The accountant's wisdom is still that you change out your fleets every three years, electronic sensors, space-age ignition systems and digital dashboards and all. Just like they did thirty years ago. For the same financial reasons.

Because for all that vaunted reliability you cite, the cars depreciate at the same rate they used to.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Your looking at the market wrong

I pick them up for around £80 from the guy next door to me with a fresh clean build already on them. Put them in my car drive to the office and invoice them £180 for each machine.

If they want me to set them up more for their work then I charge extra.

0
0
Happy

Re: 'You're looking at the market wrong' [fixed]

Not so fast: it might be the 'looking' that's being possessed, as in 'your shirt'. In this case use of 'your' is transformed from a crime against grammar to a stylistic flourish: A brave evolution of an ever changing language.

But apart from that pedantry, a concise summary of the article would be: nice hardware, shame about the cruft that runs on it.

0
0
Silver badge

Changing habits over 5 years

It's 5 years since I last bought a PC for home use. And things have changed over that period almost beyond recognition.

When we bought it, it lived in the living room, and it spent hours in use every day. We used it for any internet streaming, TV catchup, or internet music / radio stations, playing music at parties, for reading websites, news, social media, for blogging, for electronics / firmware hobby stuff, and for video editing.

Now it lives in the study, and although the electronics and video editing still need a real PC, the rest are done with phones, a tablet, various chromecast devices etc.

In short, the actual tasks for which it is used have been cut by probably 80%, leaving only the heavy lifting tasks that other, more convenient devices (which we didn't have when we bought it) can't do.

On top of that, it still does all those tasks fine. So there is no pressing need to upgrade it, unlike phones which are still rapidly improving (and getting dropped).

We will replace it if/when it stops working, but before that there is probably no need.

23
0

The PC is not dying

Sales are down simply because buying a new PC is no longer something you need to do every couple of years just in order to run the latest software (let's ignore gaming as serious PC gaming tends to be a niche).

My desktop PC at its core is 8 years old. All I've upgraded since the original build is storage (SSD + larger HDDs) and the graphics card (the original was cheap and basic). But at its core, everything I need to run still runs and generally very well. The only exception being audio and video rendering, where it is starting to show its age.

My laptop is two years old and as fast as the day I bought it. It should last me several years

I still use both over and above any other tech. Tablets are no good to me - I like to (properly) multitask. My phone gets slower by design (forced OS upgrades) and thus I MUST update it every couple of years (just like the olden days of desktops) else face more and more frustration.

I don't believe the PC is anywhere close to a death spiral even in the home environment. Consumers just don't need to be spending their money on it as often, so the stats are skewed.

Developments like the Surface are just designed to find a new niche or reason to part people with cash. Just like the iPad finally got the tablet right, MS are looking for the next revolution/evolution.

16
2
Silver badge

Re: The PC is not dying

PC gaming is a niche now, but is still part of the calculus in the timescales used to elaborate what is happening to the PC sales of today by the Gartner Geniuses.

The advent of the console caused people to finally understand that the game software companies were having a big joke at our expense. Every new game release would mean a trip to the PC store to see if your machine could be upgraded to run it. Not so any more.

The move of the gaming community to specialized hardware was a big ding in PC sales, and that market should have been properly identified and separated from the business and home office figures years ago.

7
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: The PC is not dying

The PC is dying. The vast majority of consumers don't need Windows, and all the security nightmares that comes with that. They can use a cheap tablet, or a Chromebook, most of the things they do are cloud based (web, office, email)

A very large proportion of businesses users don't need Windows or a PC for the same reason.

I only touch a PC at work (developer for industrial equipment using PC tech), but at a guess, over 50% of our business is not using PC's All the work stuff is now web based, and mobile.

4
9

Re: The PC is not dying

I'd agree. If I look outside of professional use / gaming I see very little PC use these days.

I'm not sure that anyone in my family has a PC in weekly use at home any more. Tablets seem to do everything they need. Or the have an aging (because, yes, the year on year gains are not needed for most people) PC / laptop for those times when a tablet isn't enough.

But then what do a majority of non-geeks do with a 'computer' these days? Surd the net, facebook, twitter, book vacations and shop. Even email isn't used that much anymore - instant message on your platform of choice seems to be the first choice of many - though I'd much rather use email!

I have a laptop for coding and making VideoScribes. Most of my photo blog posts are written on my phone. Most shopping is done on my phone. It's always to hand and is simply easier (as long as the site is well designed and responsive...) This reply has been written on my phone. PCs are simply not as needed as previously.

0
0
Boffin

Re: The PC is not dying

Well said. What has really happened is that PCs aren't being upgraded as much as they used to; my 8 year old desktop PC is still good for most home-related things, and my 4 year old laptop is still good enough for even heavy work. Playing resource-intensive games is the only thing I can't do, but that is less of an issue for me.

I'm pretty sure this is the same case for most people.

0
0
Silver badge
Thumb Up

Larger display - appeals to the older generation

Not just the current "older generation" but the also current generations who will get older.

Every reading of the runes I have done results in the conclusion that there will HAVE to be changes which allow people to continue using their iShinys with older eyes, fingers and ears.

Which is great news for the less able amongst us too.

5
0
Silver badge
Meh

Re: Larger display - appeals to the older generation

I think it's going to depend on the demographics of iShiny developers. If the majority of developers continue to be in their 30s or younger we might run into a problem. At that age you haven't yet encountered presbyopia.

But the problem isn't just on small devices. It's computing in general. I'm going to be 50 next year and am already running into grief because I have to run my desktop and laptop screens at 125%. I would like to increase font size on Chrome but it breaks a lot of web sites. Barclays is particularly bad and becomes practically unusable. Tesco isn't much better as I can now only see one item at a time in the basket on my laptop.

I'm not worried that I won't be able to read the screen at all but it's getting to the point where I'm forever having to scroll around to see all the content. Something about modern web design is making it worse. I don't know if it's Bootstrap or attempts to cater for fat fingers on touch screens but so much screen space is now wasted. When you're forced to magnify the content there's no way it can all fit on without scrolling or risking layout issues. It's all becoming a bit tedious :-/

Victor Meldrew - you are my hero :)

15
0
Thumb Up

Re: Larger display - appeals to the older generation

May I suggest you do as the gamers are doing now for your desktop: buy an HDTV? Preferably a 4K, the cheap and cheerful ones are nicely non-pixelated at desktop distances. And typically come with HDMI and VGA ports, not to mention the integrated speakers.

Mine's the one with a 40" Vizio playing Fallout 4.

2
0
Silver badge
Holmes

Re: Larger display - appeals to the older generation

Get yourself a pair of glasses as I did. No need to magnify the screen and play hunt the object.

3
0
Silver badge

Re: Larger display - appeals to the older generation

There's someone on eBay doing 10x credit-card fresnel lenses for a quid:

www.ebay.co.uk/itm/271919028603

...as so many people I know are old gits too, I'm buying a tenner's worth; carrying a few around all the time and giving most of them away....trying to remember that THIS TIME not to give the last one away because you can guarantee you'll need one a few minutes later. Handy and good PR.

5
0
Silver badge

They fluffed it ages ago

They should have made the ARM version of Windows a first class version of Windows (i.e. the same features and as open as the x86 version) but instead came up with Windows RT.

The Windows 7 UI is fine for desktops. Instead of destroying it, they should have kept it and come up with a separate tablet/mobile UI for Windows for mobiles/tablets.

Both versions of Windows should have been able to run both types of apps (Win32 fat binary/UWP).

More devices everywhere, but MS' OS would have been everywhere too. They'd have stayed on top of the diversification of devices and that would have created the software which drives hardware sales. Instead they're just reduced to making toys for execs to put alongside their Newtons' Cradle.

11
1
Silver badge

Re: They fluffed it ages ago

Whilst it would have been nice if MS had made an ARM version of Windows that could run any Windows application (without performance penalties), it isn't possible. Mark this one down to 'technical hurdle', instead of 'strategic fumble'.

2
2
Silver badge

Re: They fluffed it ages ago

There was, before Windows 8, Windows 7 and Visual Studio builds running on ARM in some MS skunkworks lab. Office for RT runs on a locked-down Windows desktop. People have hacked ARM exes into RT. There aren't any hurdles except those artificial ones MS placed themselves.

3
0
Gold badge

Re: They fluffed it ages ago

"There was, before Windows 8, Windows 7 and Visual Studio builds running on ARM in some MS skunkworks lab."

As far as the toolchain goes (Visual Studio), the ARM product wasn't just a skunkworks operation. It was *the* development environment for about a decade's worth of versions of Windows CE. It was a real product and targetted both x86 and ARM (and a number of other architectures) with no more than a drop-down list in a settings dialog.

There were and are no technical problems with releasing Windows on ARM and (given the woeful level of testing within the software industry anyway) no reason for third parties not to offer native ARM versions of their products from the day of the launch, just as so many managed to ship Win10-ready products on that launch date.

It's all commercial.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: They fluffed it ages ago

And it would have put MS at the forefront of ARM servers too. Instead it looks dead certain that they'd miss that too if ARM servers take off in a big way. Linux is already there of course.

To be moderately fair on MS, when they started all this ARMs were pretty feeble compared to x86 and to where they are today. MS's mistake was to think that ARM would always be too small for a full desktop. Oh how wrong they were.

There's also OpenPower that's looking very promising. They should be thinking about that too in my opinion. Superfat binaries anyone?!?!

1
0
Silver badge

Re: They fluffed it ages ago

"To be moderately fair on MS, when they started all this ARMs were pretty feeble compared to x86 and to where they are today. MS's mistake was to think that ARM would always be too small for a full desktop. Oh how wrong they were."

It's not the first time that relying on Intel to keep ahead of the game isn't wise.

Until AMD came along with 64 bit processors for the desktop, Intel was quite happy to restrict 64 bit capability to expensive servers <cough>Itanium</cough>.

0
0
Silver badge

Motivation

"... P2P Napster. The latter was arguably the only piece of software that genuinely drove consumer PC demand."

I thought it was the cool games (and maybe the internet porn)?

7
0
Bronze badge

Re: Motivation

I thought it was the cool games (and mainly the internet porn)? FIFY.

4
2

Agree 100% but...

... isn't the problem here that desktop application development environments have essentially stagnated for about 15 years in terms of tools that actually make producing attractive desktop applications easier?

4
0
Silver badge

Re: Agree 100% but...

I like WinForms, so I'd say 10 years. But mobile and web development tools are still much worse than desktop tools so it doesn't really explain why desktop is stagnant.

1
0

Sales of PCs, phones and tablets isn't really the right indicator. The notebook PC I'm typing this on is four or five years old and I have no plans to replace it.

Since I've had this PC I've bought three smartphones and three Android tablets, but the PC is in full-time use. The newest smartphone is still used, but not its predecessors - and the tablets get powered up no more than weekly.

So let's not compare sales, let's compare use. The stats are available.

8
0
Silver badge
Holmes

Let's praiseSurface, not bury it.

Let's not.

Let's see first, eh?

7
1
Windows

It is in fact interesting that the last three years or so have seen something that.....

...........some of our fellow members of our little congregation here at El Reg are unwilling to admit.

"So Surface is an attempt to revive interest in the very idea of personal computing. It's had a hugely positive impact on the quality of the established PC players. Lenovo, Dell and HP have all gone back to the drawing board and returned with their best products for years."

Microsoft has in fact as far as hardware is concerned given the entire paradigm a genuine kick in the arse. The effect on the OEMs has been considerable. Just consider HPs Spectre x360 for the private retail market. The latest iteration has excellent battery life, terrific design and one of the best keyboards and touchpads available out there as well as a gorgeous screen. Andrew's point is well taken. Regardless of our concerns regarding the privacy issues with Win10 it is not possible to argue that MS under "SatNav" does not innovate. Better late than never we might say but "there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth" etc. etc.

11
5

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Forums

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2017