updated 06:15 pm EDT, Wed August 10, 2011
Microsoft downplays tablets in 30-year PC history
Microsoft's Corporate Communications VP Frank Shaw in a commentary on the 30th anniversary of the original IBM PC dismissed the talk of a post-PC era. He preferred to characterize it as a "PC-plus era," since there would be an estimated 400 million PCs sold around the world in 2011. Microsoft's response would be to largely stay the course, though he hinted at tighter hardware and software integration going on.
Shaw was cautious enough to leave the door open for change but assumed that Microsoft would still dictate technology for the next 30 years. "The past doesn't always predict the future, but let's just say it offers some strong clues," he said.
Cloud services weren't necessarily a danger to Microsoft's future, either, and could create a "whole new set" of chances for Microsoft to grow. The buyout of Skype was also likely to lead to some "killer Skype services" soon.
The remarks come even as evidence has been emerging of PCs slowing down. IDC estimates pegged spring computer growth at just 2.6 percent and have pinned it mostly on sluggish home adoption as a growing number put off or skipped PCs for tablets, primarily the iPad. Intel's continued record sales have been attributed mostly to sales being concentrated around fewer but more expensive chips.
Microsoft as a whole has been on the defensive ever since Apple CEO Steve Jobs began making remarks that it was a post-PC era. He still sees computers existing but as "trucks" to do the heavy lifting where most regular use would happen on simpler devices.
A counterpoint to Shaw ironically followed from IBM itself. Its Middle East and Africa CTO, Mark Dean, not only believed it was a post-PC era but said he had acted on it, making a non-PC tablet his main source of computing. He agreed that PCs would survive but that they were no longer the indicator of where technology was going, likening them to once-useful but now obsolete inventions.
"When I helped design the PC, I didn't think I'd live long enough to witness its decline," Dean said. "But, while PCs will continue to be much-used devices, they're no longer at the leading edge of computing. They're going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs."
The executive went so far as to say IBM's selloff of its home PC business to Lenovo in 2005 was prescient. Most had considered it foolish, but it now looked to be a "vanguard of the post-PC era," he said. Shedding PCs had only helped, increasing profit margins and leading it to focus on solving larger problems like artificial intelligence and letting it succeed in services.