Can Windows 8 Save the PC?

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Last weekend I accompanied my 20-something sister-in-law to a Best Buy to purchase an iPad 2. She previously considered buying a Windows laptop, but as it turns out Apple’s tablet does everything that she needs. And that’s a pretty scary thing for the PC industry. Cash-strapped consumers aren’t choosing tablets merely as complementary devices. Increasingly, it’s an either/or decision—and Windows is losing.

At its upcoming BUILD conference, Microsoft will try to convince me and others in attendance that the upcoming Windows 8 operating system will deliver “the best of both worlds” by combining a touch-friendly front end with the power of a traditional PC. But what happens when shoppers view the latter ingredient as dead weight?

This week Gartner reduced its PC shipment growth forecast from 9.3 to 3.8 percent, placing the blame on economic woes in Western Europe and the U.S. There’s another culprit though: the rise of tablets. According to Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, those in Generation Y (like my sister-in-law) “are not buying PCs as their first, or necessarily main, device.” He also said that older buyers don’t see today’s PCs as compelling. Microsoft apparently got the same memo, as evidenced by its recent commercials that transform people’s homes into computer stores.

This marketing campaign is just a stop-gap measure. The real solution won’t arrive until this time next year when the first Windows 8 devices hit the market.

One of those devices will likely be a tablet made by Samsung, which Microsoft will reportedly unveil at BUILD next week. At CES in January we got a hands-on preview of Samsung’s Sliding Series 7, a Windows 7 tablet with a slide-out keyboard. However, this device never made it to market. We would have shelved the product, too. Windows 8 promises to be much more touch-friendly, with a Live Tile interface that’s similar to Windows Phone 7 and full-screen apps powered by HTML 5. So perhaps Samsung’s slider will be reborn.

That’s part of the best-of-both-worlds argument that Microsoft and its partners will try to make with Windows 8. You’ll see pure slate devices sold but also many tablets that let you access a full keyboard when you need it, such as the Sliding Series 7 and the Eee Pad Transformer. I personally would appreciate that kind of versatility, so long as I don’t have to compromise much in the way of portability.

It looks like Windows 8 devices will deliver the best of both worlds in another way. During a roundtable discussion earlier this week, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang told reporters that the OS should be able to run Windows Phone 7 apps. This move makes perfect sense—assuming the apps scale well to larger displays—and it could encourage more developers to dedicate more resources to both of Microsoft’s platforms.

Windows 8 PCs won’t just run mobile apps. They’ll act like mobile devices. That’s because Microsoft says that it has found a way to boot machines to the OS in just 8 seconds. A new fast startup mode that’s a hybrid of the traditional cold boot and resuming from hibernate will be able to get you to the Metro UI faster than you can say “This is a PC?”

The toughest challenge for Microsoft is to prove to shoppers that having full-blown Windows running underneath a sleek interface isn’t a turn-off. For many consumers—especially those who have fled to Macs—Windows has become synonymous with incessant software updates, security headaches, and needless complexity. Some of these reasons led to Apple’s Lion beating Windows 7 in our recent face-off.

Can Microsoft make the rest of Windows 8 just as inviting as that start screen? So far, however, some of the tweaks under the hood have spurred controversy. Last week, Windows President Steven Sinofsky defended the decision to opt for a Ribbon-style interface for Windows Explorer. This UI treatment, which presents multiple options along the top of the toolbar, resulted in a backlash a few years ago when it debuted on Microsoft Office. In a blog post, Sinofsky countered by saying that users should think of the desktop as just another app.

While writing this column on a Windows laptop, I had to reboot because my machine froze. This reinforced my strong belief that Microsoft’s ability to keep the PC alive doesn't depend on the company’s ability to wow with touch or compelling apps. It comes down to whether Microsoft can convince consumers that they can continue to enjoy the PC’s versatility without the traditional PC baggage. That they made the right call in scaling down their desktop OS instead of starting from scratch like Apple did with iOS and the iPad. There’s a fine line between the best of both worlds and a world of hurt.

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.






Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
Add a comment
  • 460roger Says:

    460roger Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    July 9th, 2012 at 10:44 pm
    Yes , it is too soon to thow out W-7.. Now we have to learn W-8… For us whom are not GEEKS in the PC World . It is tough to keep up..
    Will W-8 keep things like Window Media Center ?? I have not read a good break down on what W-8 is dropping from W-8 to speed it up.. What will work faster , what we will not be able to use anymore..
    Here it is 7/9/2012… When is it going to be thrown at us. So we can head to Costco or Sam’s Club to buy W-8 ??? My PC is working fine on W-7 .. Why go through the updates and hassile ?? But we will because it is new. Change is good they say

  • 460roger Says:

    Yes , it is too soon to thow out W-7.. Now we have to learn W-8... For us whom are not GEEKS in the PC World . It is tough to keep up..
    Will W-8 keep things like Window Media Center ?? I have not read a good break down on what W-8 is dropping from W-8 to speed it up.. What will work faster , what we will not be able to use anymore..
    Here it is 7/9/2012... When is it going to be thrown at us. So we can head to Costco or Sam's Club to buy W-8 ??? My PC is working fine on W-7 .. Why go through the updates and hassile ?? But we will because it is new. Change is good they say

  • upptyo Says:

    lol, try using lion with 4 gig ram, it can't even run safari stably for two weeks. windows 7 will run for months as long as you are not stupid enough to induce malware.

  • Curmudgeon Says:

    Microsoft can suck it! I was reasonably content with Windows XP...after SP3, when it had been on the market long enough for the consumers to iron all the bugs out. Buisness as usual for Microsuck...cobble an operating system together, and make it just good enough to throw on the market, then let the customers find all the bugs. Then, after everything is working smoothly, dump it, and start all over. Windows Vista was crap. How long has Windows 7 been out, and now here comes Winblows 8. I finally had enough, and switched to Linux! Now I'm kicking myself for not doing it much sooner!

  • Caboose Says:

    i think the author of this article is confusing "complexity" for ignorance, honestly the majority of computer issues are user error. what exactly caused your laptop to freeze? it's interesting that you didnt bother to post what the actual problem was with your laptop, but instead you immediately blame the OS. i bet you didnt know Mac has a tendency to sell out of date parts at modern day prices. it's kind of staggering with the amount of info at peoples finger tips that there are still so many that are this uneducated.

    hell even the premise for your article is uninformed as you seem to imply that Microsoft is in some sort of crisis right now and yet they still control the vast majority of the desktop computer market. Mac's strength has never been to directly compete with Microsoft, they didn't get where they are today by selling computers, it was the ipod and the iphone. It's going to be a very long time before tablets are capable of what today's desktop computers can do and that would be to assume that desktop computers never advance with newer hardware and software. try doing some research next time.

  • Scott Says:

    I cannot imagine businesses that use thousands of business applications would find anything useful in the new Windows 8 features that are being discussed in this article. These are obviously features that are suitable for web-enabled social appliances (toys) only. There will definately have to be a Aero "classic" desktop available or this will be a non-starter for business.

  • Rob Says:

    Hi Mark,
    I didn't read all of the comments but started laughing after I saw half a dozen or so negative (or downright hateful) ones. A river in Egypt came to mind. Windows based PCs are in big trouble. Some folks may not like to hear it or they may disagree but it's true. Microsoft knows it. Smartphones and tablets have changed how people use and view computers. They are changing the very definition of the term "personal computer". Maybe you put Windows PCs on the endangered species list a little too soon, but the writing is on the wall, and unless Microsoft acts soon and appropriately, the Windows based PC will be a part of history.

  • nothankstogorillaarm Says:

    The UI change push MS has going is ridiculous. The problem with these kinds of interfaces is they are very fatiguing. It is terrible ergonomics. If you are doing a lot of actual work these fisher price interfaces on phones are not going to work but just slow you down and reduce efficency. Honestly if they insist on pushing this kind of crap on users I will be switching to Macs because at that point their interface will be better for productive work.

    I can't work on a giant phone.

  • CelticPagan Says:

    I have never bought an Apple Product, and I never will. Just because Steve Jobs stepped down it doesn't change Apple from being an evil greedy company that refuses to allow others to make products using their various OS'. Long live the PC!

    BTW, I much prefer a Tower or a Notebook to a flimsy, drop it once and it is broken tablet. When someone makes a sturdy, 1TB or greater storage Tablet that also is an eReader, Steaming Video and music player, WiFi enabled (and WiFi hot spot) device that integrates with my BluRay Player, HD 3D TV, and my PC's, then I will consider getting one (obviously not an Apple).

  • Nex Says:

    I don't know if the editor has been living under a rock or something but PCs are doing fine. There are some things that an android or ios tablet just can't replace a PC in (looks at gaming, webdesign, writing the apps for android/ios devices, video and photo editing, etc.), at least for the next couple years, but then tablets will become less like oversized smartphones and more like actual computers.

    I have to object to you blaming the system for being a headache. It is if you are a moron who falls for every scam in the book, if you are looking for a porn clip and download an .exe file and run it you have no one but yourself to blame, really your own common sense should be the first line of defence with the antivirus catching whatever slipped through. Updates are set on by default (did you know that most exploits are done by reverse-engineering? hackers take a patch, see what it fixes, make an exploit for that and target the computers which have no yet updated with it), only thing you have to worry about is finding and downloading an antivirus software (plenty of free ones out there). Once OSx, iOS and Android get significant market shares you will start seeing plenty of viruses for them too.

    Regarding unreliability of windows, bluescreens occur only when theres a hardware failure. Meaning that if you would have any other system running on the machine you would crash either way.

    If you ask me windows 8 might only just cause more harm than good seeing how it looks like an information kiosk you'd see at an airport (I really hope that it will at least have an option to have the old style GUI, otherwise I am never upgrading from 7). I think that it would be fine on phones and tablets but for the PC why fix something that ain't broken.

  • Gabriel Says:

    Good call laptopmag, the answer is no, Windows, and ultimately Microsoft, cannot be saved. The only way to survive for Microsoft (as a truly relevant company) is via their services and products as messenger marketing, and microsoft office, unfortunately for them, they will make money only until apple owns the office market in a future, since they are conquering the world, and for good.

  • MarcXW Says:

    I think we should just end with the speculation about windows 8 until we see the final version and the marketing that Microsoft is going to adopt. Apart from that, I cannot believe that your computer froze, I haven't had any computer freeze under Windows since Vista, even though it sucked and was extremely slow, it would never freeze like other versions used to and Windows 7 has always been very stable for me as well, so I really don't know how you did it but you must've done something wrong on some level.

  • mirekk Says:

    Beg to disagree - this tendency applies only to those who do not need full-fledged PCs and it's ok, let them buy tablets. But still tablets are just too simple (meaning raw computing power, absence of professional applications, lack of USB and FireWire ports, etc.) for a huge number of creative and professional applications. And it is not the matter of this or that GUI or OS but simply availability of applications and functionalities. I will not replace my old laptop with a shiny new tablet just because I can - I'm all about functionality, which tablets do not provide in abundance (unless you count in reading magazines in a crapper, where tablets win hands down :P).

  • durruty Says:

    Trying to blame the OS system for every problem/crash you have is just dumb. I repair laptops/tablets systemboards at component level, it's my job, and I have to repair Macbooks, Macbooks Pro and Ipads almost every day for hardware related issues and guess what? The reported problems are spontaneous crashes, video distortion and not video at all.
    Yes, windows updates and security are a pain..., but once the iOS becomes more popular, there will be more hackers trying to find security holes in the OS and then the need for more updates/patches.
    If you need a device for something more than playing "angry birds", browse the net and visit facebook, you will still need (at least for the time being) the productivity applications that run on Windows, and more efficient input devices...try to write this report with a touch screen.
    By the way, nVidia faulty chips are responsible for a lot of the video problems and system crashes that occur in laptop and desktop hardware at this moment, and it also happens on Macs.

  • Gomo Says:

    I had the opposite experience one week ago. A colleague asked that I accompany her to purchase a device that she could travel with easily. At the store she walked by the tablets (including the iPad) without stopping when she saw the Dell Mini Duo her eyes lit up. She insisted that that was what she wanted, she did not want to have to learn to use anything new.

  • JonG Says:

    Obviously by "needs" this probably means "um, i just want something to listen to music and spend all day on Facebook, you mean i dont need a laptop for that?" As mentioned if it was for something productive a pc would have been in order.

  • Barotn Hewett Says:

    As a long time Windows user who currently has 6 Windows machines employed in a wide range of purposes (sound and video editing, graphics, Photoshop and general business use) I would like to say I have not seen a Windows machine crash in years. I can't remember the last time I had any system malfunction. This comment by an "Editor in chief" seems to come from another time period (like Windows 95) and seem to be a remarkably ignorant thing to say. Microsoft has a very good, reliable product that runs on a wide variety of hardware (something apple can't boast!) very well. Get your computer fixed and stop blaming Microsoft!

  • Wesley Says:

    A mac is a PC

  • Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief Says:

    It's not made up. An iPad is all she wanted/needed. I guess it really comes down to what you plan on doing. I still need a laptop for productivity so I'd like to see what these tablet/notebook hybrids can do once Win 8 launches.

  • JohnnyL Says:

    Two years of using a Dell laptop at work and have never had a crash that forced a hard shutdown...and that's with XP not W7. As for your sister and buying an Ipad...that as to be made up. I can't imagine anyone being able to get by with an Ipad as their sole computing device. Maybe as a laptop replacement. It's just to big a hassle getting things into and off of it compared to the traditional desktop/laptop experience. Now a W8 device with a full array of ports....that is something else altogether.

  • JakeW Says:

    Ohh so Macs don't get updates, they don't have problems with malware,(remember a few months back), and they're not confusing? How many steps to u have to take to just rename a file? You people at laptopmag are Apple kissing biased losers.

  • Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief Says:

    If by user error by moving the cursor the wrong way I don't think that was it. It could certainly be hardware related but its how the hardware and software that work together that makes all the difference. I've had apps freeze on the iPad and force close but never had the whole tablet hang. That's what I'm getting at. Stability is just as important as sleekness, and I hope Windows 8 makes progress on both fronts.

  • Chris Says:

    I would love to see how all of these mobile applications are going to be developed without a PC. Oh, they won't be. If your system is randomly crashing while you are writeing an artical you suffer from user error / hardware problems not the OS.

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