Get set for a Windows PC comeback

Windows 8, the Ultrabook, and HP's second thoughts about exiting the desktop market suggest that competition for users' hearts and minds is far from over

You've seen the numbers: IDC predicts a year-over-year decrease in PC sales of nearly 4 percent for the United States and Europe this year. And that number includes Macs, which as a segment increased 21.5 percent in Q3 2011 over Q3 2010. Meanwhile, tablet sales are booming.

OMG, it's the end of the Windows PC!

[ Download the InfoWorld Windows 8 Deep Dive report for everything you need to know about the forthcoming Microsoft Windows 8 OS. | InfoWorld's Galen Gruman wishes the Ultrabook label would guarantee a minimum technology level in Windows laptops. ]

Enough already! The Mac share of the PC market may be growing, led by the rousing success of the MacBook Air, but it's still less than 13 percent. And 20 million tablets may have sold worldwide in the first half of the year, but that's still a far cry from the 100 million or so Windows PCs that shipped. More to the point, since when did the people who bought those tablets junk their PCs? What they really want is an integrated experience across their PCs, smartphones, and tablets.

And with Windows 8, Microsoft finally seems to have gotten that. Windows 8's Metro interface may seem tacked on at first, but it's great for tablets and, of course, originated on Windows Phone 7. So once users get accustomed to it, they'll enjoy a unified cross-device experience. Reportedly, porting Windows 7 apps to Metro will be a snap, and with a UI tool designed for HTML5 grid layouts, developers will easily be able to create apps that work on multiple screen sizes and orientations.

Then there's Microsoft's new Windows Live sync capabilities. If you log on with Windows Live ID from a Windows 8 PC, Windows 8 tablet, or Windows Phone 7 smartphone, all your configuration settings can travel with you among those devices, along with even your last state when you logged off -- your open documents, apps, and so on. That should take synchronization across devices to a whole new level.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that Windows desktops themselves lack sex appeal. So who needs 'em? Laptop sales started outpacing desktop sales in 2008 -- and the new Ultrabook design being promoted by Intel promises to give some consumer kick to Windows laptops.

Mainly the Ultrabook appeal will come from the form factor, which is intended to mimic that of the MacBook Air -- in its first iteration was 0.78 inch at its thickest point -- and a MacBook Air-like projected minimum battery life of five hours for Web use. But Intel is suggesting other common features for Ultrabooks, including near-instant-on capability and Intel's Anti-Theft and Identity Protection technologies.

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