PC market rebound reflects success of Windows 7

Gartner predicts that PC sales will climb 22 percent in 2010--driven in part by the success of Windows 7.

Gartner is predicting a 22 percent growth of global PC sales for 2010, following years of declining volume. The rebound is reflective of the general economic recovery, but also illustrates the pent up demand created by companies and consumers avoiding Windows Vista, and the shift to embrace Windows 7.

Microsoft hit a homerun with Windows 7. As of early March the operating system had already sold more than 90 million copies, making it the fastest-selling operating system ever. Businesses and consumers are aggressively adopting the new operating system after shunning its predecessor, Windows Vista.

I can't give all of the credit for the turnaround of the PC market to Windows 7, but I can give a lot of it. The general improvement of the global economy certainly helps, but the fact that so many businesses and consumers are still running Windows XP on older hardware means that in many cases an upgrade to newer PC hardware is required in order to make the switch to Windows 7.

Perhaps even more significant than the forecast itself is the fact that Gartner claims that consumer demand is more than twice as strong as business demand. Gartner estimates that consumer demand for home PC's will jump nearly 30 percent this year, while business PC volume will increase less than 15 percent.

Of course, businesses--predominantly relying on the antiquated Windows XP desktop operating system--will also embrace Windows 7 and invest in new PC hardware, but the ebb and flow of hardware and software lifecycles, combined with the lethargic pace of budget approvals and PC refresh project execution in larger corporations simply means it will take longer. The release of Office 2010 may provide additional incentive for IT departments to green light PC refresh projects as well.

"In the professional PC market, the aging life of PCs will drive replacements. Organizations will find it tougher to further extend PC life cycles without incurring more costs," Gartner analyst Ranjit Atwal said in a statement from Gartner. "This, together with the adoption of Windows 7, will generate robust demand in the professional market. Larger businesses expect to start replacements in the second half of 2010, with the majority replaced in 2011. We now expect Windows 7 migration to last through 2012."

Interestingly, the predicted spike in PC volume does not include devices like the Apple iPad. Gartner describes a media tablet as "a device that has a screen size of 5 inches or larger and is outfitted with a restricted-function OS, such as iPhone, Android and Chrome," and Gartner does not include media tablets in its PC figures. By Gartner standards, apparently the Dell Streak is a tablet after all.

In the statement, Gartner analyst Raphael Vasquez says "Media tablets will not impact the mini-notebook segment this year. However, media tablets, such as the iPad and similar devices, will significantly detract from mini-notebook shipments in 2013 and onward, when we expect their prices to be lower and, more importantly, their functionality to be more similar to mini-notebooks."

Apparently Mr. Vasquez hasn't seen the results of the Retrevo survey. That survey found that 30 percent of those considering a netbook earlier this year held off once the iPad was announced and instead purchased the media tablet. A startling 78 percent of those currently in the market for a portable computing device reported leaning toward the iPad over a netbook.

The new line of processors from Intel should yield a new class of portable computers, though--combining the size, weight, and battery life of netbooks, with the stronger performance of a full-sized notebook. Once those systems hit the street business professionals will have a more compelling alternative to media tablets like the iPad.

Media tablets aside, the symbiotic relationship between the Windows 7 operating system and new PC hardware will continue to drive sales for both for sometime.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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