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

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Keep in mind this is not a real spec: Intel isn't Apple, so it can't tell manufacturers what to do, and as far as I know the chipmaker has no plans for an Ultrabook certification program. But smart PC vendors are going to climb on the Ultrabook bandwagon. Apple has proven over and over again how important design is to user affinity and productivity. Not all laptop vendors will get the Ultrabook right, but even Intel's rough outlines are a big step in the right direction.

Imagine if the Ultrabook became the new standard PC. Economies of scale would drive the price down for the lightest mobile Windows computing device with a real keyboard. And the Ultrabook's sex appeal may become essential: If you believe that BYOT (bring your own technology) is on the horizon, where users purchase their own hardware and run a secure "business VM" on it, then you need a laptop people will actually want to buy.

I can't say for sure what new HP CEO Meg Whitman was thinking when HP announced, contrary to freshly fired CEO Léo Apotheker's intimations, that it was keeping its PC business. But I can speculate: In the United States, PC sales numbers have slipped for Dell, the only domestic Windows PC competitor HP has to worry about, and it's still difficult to imagine broad swaths of business jettisoning decades of Windows applications and retraining everyone on Macs. If I were HP, I'd have designers working furiously on hot-looking Ultrabooks that will make Windows 8 sing.

At the beginning of this year, I was thrilled by all the new opportunities to extend the personal computing paradigm beyond the Windows PC -- and I still am. But can a tablet or smartphone replace a device with a full keyboard? Can Google Apps replace Office, whether on PCs or Chromebooks? And are Ubuntu and LibreOffice on Linux PCs really viable business alternatives?

In fact, all of the above are great extensions to a primary laptop or desktop. And now that Microsoft has innovated more than I thought it could, a sleek Ultrabook running Windows 8 may well provide a new nucleus for business computing. The question is whether Microsoft, HP, and Dell can produce suffciently compelling products in time before Apple or other innovators take another big leap ahead.

This article, "Get set for a Windows PC comeback," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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