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The Future of the PC

In late May 2010 the Wall Street Journal hosted an Executive Conference called “All Things Digital” (or “D8” – because it was the eighth time that the conference has been held). Speakers at the conference included Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR; James Cameron of Titanic and Avatar fame; FCC Chairman Julian Genachowski; and Alan Mulally, Ford’s CEO.

Clearly the highlight of the show were the comments of Apple CEO, Steve Jobs; and Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer and Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie. By the way Ozzie replaced Bill Gates in that position; essentially he is developing Microsoft’s strategy.

Jobs predicted that the age of the PC is over and that starting now PC’s will gradually be replaced by new devices such as smart phones like the iPhone and tablets like the iPad. Commentators noted that Jobs may have a point. Multiple companies are racing to position themselves in the mobile, social, app-centric, cloud-based computing future. Consumer’s digital lives have been tethered to the PC for 30+ years. Perhaps much that we take for granted about the PC will be disrupted.

Wall Street Journal technology editor Walter Mossberg interviewed Ballmer and Ozzie about the future of the PC. Following are excerpts from that interview:

Mr. Mossberg:
The other night at this conference Steve Jobs was interviewed and he said that he thought we were on a course where fewer people would be using PC’s and more people would be using tablets or smart-phones or these other devices. What do you believe about that?
Mr. Ballmer:
People are going to be using PC’s in greater and greater numbers for many years to come. PC’s are going to continue to shift in form factor. PC’s will look different next year, and the year after that. They’ll get smaller and lighter. Some of them will have a keyboard and some of them won’t have a keyboard.

Nothing people do on a PC today is going to get less relevant tomorrow. There are usage cases – whether those are done today on PC’s or on alternative devices – that are going to grow in popularity.

There’s no question about that, particularly in entertainment oriented scenarios.

Mr. Mossberg
You’re using the term PC to envelop things that I think a lot of average people don’t think of as PC’s, like the iPad or other tablets that are coming. Is that kind of thing a PC?
Mr. Ballmer:
It’s a different form factor of PC.

Mr. Mossberg:
Are there going to be tablets that look sort of something like the iPad that run Windows?
Mr. Ballmer:
Sure, there are going to be tablets that run windows.

That’s it! End of discussion from Ballmer and Ozzie about the future of the PC. Here’s what I think Ballmer said: There will be different computing form factors and I, Steve Ballmer, choose to call them a PC. The reason I call them PC’s is because they might run Windows.

Microsoft is likely to be one of the big losers if mobile computing and tablet computing (which are probably the same thing) take off, as many observers expect they will. Microsoft ranks #5 in mobile market share, requiring that Ballmer significantly shake-up the management Microsoft’s mobile business. Microsoft’s biggest customer, HP, just became a competitor to Microsoft through the purchase of Palm, which gives HP access to an established mobile operating system.

Microsoft MUST have a strategy for dealing with mobile communication and with the growth of tablets. Maybe they just don’t want to tell us what it is yet. Or maybe they don’t have a strategy.

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One Response to “The Future of the PC”

  1. Al Dawson on June 17th, 2010 3:21 pm

    Let me be the first to post a comment. It sure seems as though Microsoft is in active inertia, believing their technology will triumph in the end over the disruptive, mobile communications technology. Microsoft clearly has blinders on and is willing to live within it’s strategic frames, ignoring the very real threat this disruption presents. MPD class 13 or 14 will likely be reading about Microsoft’s downfall in a future version of MRI!

    Hey, not bad, three buzz words in one paragraph.

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