The death of the PC: Invented by Apple, accelerated by Microsoft

Apple's iPad was designed to change computing, but Microsoft's bungling of Windows dramatically hastened the progress

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Windows 8's early promise went unfulfilled
The decision to bring the past along with the future wasn't itself stupid. When I first saw the plans for Windows 8, I thought that a successful melding could really take on the iPad, as it would help ease the shift for existing Windows users -- all 1 billion of them. But execution is everything, and Windows 8 is a really bad mix of Windows 7 and Metro, requiring way too much work and mental adjustments. Everyone I know who's tried it hates it. The extremely poor sales -- worse than the bad Vista -- show most people feel the same way.

Microsoft's stupidity extends beyond the Windows 8 execution, of course. Nearly every reviewer of the preview versions of Windows 8 hated the horrible mixing of Windows 7 and Metro, and for a year websites and blogs sounded the alarm. Microsoft ignored them all and delivered an essentially unchanged version.

As always, it cited user research to claim it knew better than the reviewers as to what people wanted. Microsoft is clearly horrible at doing user research, since it makes radical changes in its UIs every few years, citing that same research process. The truth is, if Microsoft's user research were valid, it wouldn't come to radically different conclusions every few years. Instead, Windows would evolve slowly, subtly but smartly modernizing along the way, as OS X has for a decade.

Microsoft suffers from believing its own fiction. When you talk to Microsofties, you can tell they live in a parallel universe apart from the rest of us. This is why Microsoft can ship Windows Phone without support for its own Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies, which it licensed to Apple and made iOS the corporate standard. This is why Microsoft can ship Windows RT without support for POP email or EAS. It simply doesn't see what everyone else does, much as Research in Motion did to the BlackBerry's peril and Nokia to its own peril.

I hear from the rest of the tech community that Microsoft is not only living in a delusion, but in separate delusions, with different arms of the company -- Server & Tools, Windows, Mobile, and Office -- having almost nothing to do with each other. There's little synergy in product direction.

The result of this stupidity and dysfunction at Microsoft was the double whammy of Windows 8 and Windows Phone, both inferior products delivered at a time when Microsoft couldn't afford to be inferior. Not only had the iPhone become the new corporate standard smartphone, the iPad had become the standard tablet for both users and businesses. Mac sales weren't declining along with PC sales, in effect growing the Mac share -- so much so that Gartner now says IT will accept Macs as a corporate standard alongside Windows PCs next year.

What it means to be post-PC
But post-PC isn't about Macs replacing PCs or even gaining equal status. It's about computing where users take charge. iPads and smartphones are even more personal than personal computers. The reason the bring-your-own-device movement occurred with the iPhone and the iPad is not just because they are amazingly useful away from your desk. It's because they give you the opportunity to be truly your own.

In the 1980s, PCs were that way, but over three decades, IT has neutered the PC into a soulless workstation in the name of security and standardization. A PC is just a piece of office equipment, while an iPad, iPhone, or Android equivalent is a personal device -- your device, with the apps you prefer, the entertainment you want, and the communications channels you like. As professionals' work is no longer bounded by regular hours and a static office location, that coexistence of personal and business on a computing device simply makes sense. Post-PC devices are perfectly aligned to a world where work and home are intermixed.

Yes, there are attempts to create separate containers on mobile devices to impose that IT mentality; desktop virtualization is one technique that's gone nowhere, and there's the notion of separate personas in BlackBerry OS 10 and in some Android devices. However, I suspect the strict separation of work and personal is a ship that has sailed.

Instead, businesses will adapt to a world where individuals carry their own computing engines -- their smartphones and tablets -- and hook in to networks, monitors, storage, input devices, and so on as needed. Our desks will have peripherals, not PCs. Standardization and security will move down to the information level, not the device level.

That vision is years away, of course. In the meantime, people will still use the PCs they have. But more and more companies will stop replacing them with new PCs and instead issue tablets instead to most workers -- and eventually get out of the device-issuance business altogether, except for those workstation uses.

Steve Jobs' vision is coming true, and Microsoft has made it so much easier to realize it.

This article, "The death of the PC: Invented by Apple, accelerated by Microsoft," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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