Thursday, July 11, 2013

Waiting for the Mighty Morphin Personal Computers

The computer industry has been offering excuses for the weakness in PC sales for a long time. Five years ago, the finger of blame was pointed at recession-based cost-cutting by the big corporate customers. By last year, the story was that they were holding off, waiting for Microsoft to release Windows 8. When Windows 8 functioned awkwardly on release, it was that buyers were waiting for a patch to fix the worst flaws in Windows 8. Now the story is that when the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers become Windows 8-compatible that will turn the slide around. I exaggerate, but sales at Dell and Hewlett-Packard have slid so much that Lenovo has passed them in unit sales, so it is time for the most colorful excuse we can come up with.

The significant thing about Lenovo is that it is not particularly strong in corporate sales. That looked like a problem five years ago but now looks like a strategy. Having not invested so much in the corporate bubble, Lenovo now does not have to face the painful slide on the other side.

PCs are declining not just because corporations are declining, not just because of the new flaws introduced in Windows 8, but mainly because the capabilities of the PC are less than they were, or at least seemed, a decade ago. The current corporate PC is so locked down for security reasons that it can barely do anything anymore. Users can type and click buttons, but for security reasons have limited access to the Internet where documents can be typed and buttons can be clicked to actual effect. What this implies is that the corporate PC is at risk of being replaced by a suite of HTML 5 apps. And if this sounds like another joke, consider that Microsoft and Adobe have both already taken the precaution of moving their flagship applications online.

Some of the more forward-looking corporations are doing their part by replacing PCs with thin clients, modem-sized computers that do virtually everything a PC can do on a corporate network, but without adding in a lot of expensive extra capabilities that are only going to be locked down anyway. At the same time, about 20 of the bigger computer companies are angling to be in position to provide corporate cloud services, basically just NSA-compatible remote servers, as soon as the firewall problems can be worked out. Everyone is moving in the same direction, but these parts don’t go together to create a cart that can roll. We can’t be surprised if there is a crashing sound when we get to the end of the tunnel.