Why does the IT industry continue to listen to Gartner?

Summary:Another day, another provocative research report from Gartner, which has a long track record of spectacularly wrong predictions. I've collected some of their greatest hits. Er, misses.

Gartner is getting more than its fair share of attention today for a controversial series of blog posts on Windows 8 from research director Gunnar Berger, who argues that the Windows 8 experience will be “bad” on a non-touch-enabled device.

Update 24-July: Gartner's "Gunnar Berger" has removed the sentence describing Windows 8 as "bad" from his blog post, telling PC Pro UK that the statement was taken out of context by sites like The Register, which headlined its post "Windows 8 'bad' for desktop users - Gartner's one-word review." ZDNet's own Zack Whittaker headlined his post    Gartner: Windows 8 for desktop users is, in a word, 'bad' .

"My overall opinion on Windows 8 is actually really good," Berger told PC Pro UK. "That’s why I’m surprised at the amount of press – they love taking that one sentence and pulling it out of context. That’s driving me nuts. Overall, it’s actually a compelling product, combining a tablet OS and a desktop OS... I think that’s a very smart move."

I have one question. Why does anyone pay attention to Gartner, which has been trolling IT professionals for as long as I’ve been in the industry?

Just for grins, I went back and looked up some of Gartner’s more spectacularly confident and wrong-headed predictions. Here are some of their greatest hits. Er, I mean misses.

November 29, 2004 - Gartner: HP and IBM could abandon PC market

"Of the top 10 worldwide vendors, only Dell has consistently been profitable in the past several years. The PC divisions of HP and IBM are vulnerable to being spun off if their drag on margins and profitability are deemed too great by their parent companies," wrote Gartner in a research note.

Well, I suppose you can give Gartner half-credit for that one. After all, IBM did announce only eight days later (hey, did someone have some inside info?) that it would spin off its PC business to Lenovo. Except IBM kept an 18.9% equity stake in the new company, which means it got to keep the profits without the manufacturing headaches as it extended its reach into the enterprise.

Meanwhile, that HP prediction? Spectacularly wrong. Yes, seven years later, as part of its worst management crisis ever, HP tried to exit the PC industry. But it quickly reversed that decision and remains atop the worldwide leaderboard for PCs.

October 18, 2006 - Gartner: Apple should quit hardware business

Increasing component costs and pressure to cut its prices mean Apple's best bet for long-term success is to quit the hardware business and license the Mac to Dell, analyst firm Gartner claimed on Tuesday.

In a surprisingly ambitious report, called Apple Should License the Mac to Dell, Gartner says Apple should concentrate on what it does best — create software — and make use of Dell's production and distribution infrastructure.

"Apple should leverage its close relationship with Intel and team up with Intel's closest ally, Dell," the report states. "We recognise that this move would surprise and even shock many. We are aware that Steve Jobs cancelled previous Mac licences when he took over at Apple and that he guards the Apple brand zealously."

[…]

Gartner claims that with the right partners, distribution channels and a more affordable price, computers running the Mac OS could eventually account for 20 percent of the total PC market.

How’d that work out? Seriously, I know people have written a lot of stupid “advice for Apple” posts in the past decade, but this is the all-time topper.

As for market predictions, Gartner’s performance in 2009 really defines the term “moving the goal posts.” Follow along with me as we get in the Wayback Machine and set the dial for early 2009:

March 2, 2009 - Gartner Says PC Industry Will Suffer Sharpest Unit Decline in History in 2009

The PC industry will experience its sharpest unit decline in history, with PC shipments totaling 257 million units in 2009, an 11.9 percent decline from 2008, according to Gartner, Inc. Previously, PC units experienced their worst decline in 2001 when unit shipments contracted 3.2 percent.

Well, they are professional analysts, and they know their stuff. So, surely … wait, what’s this at the end of the year?

November 23, 2009 – Gartner Says Worldwide PC Shipments to Grow 2.8 Percent in 2009, but PC Revenue to Decline 11 Percent

Accelerating mobile PC shipments will drive the worldwide PC market to grow again this year, according to Gartner's preliminary fourth-quarter forecast. The new forecast predicts worldwide PC shipments will total 298.9 million units in 2009, a 2.8 percent increase from 2008.

OK, that was a narrow recovery. Completely unexpected. But we’re confident that these new numbers … I’m sorry, you say things changed again just a few weeks later?

January 13, 2010 - Gartner Says Worldwide PC Shipments in Fourth Quarter of 2009 Posted Strongest Growth Rate in Seven Years

Worldwide PC shipments surpassed 90 million units in the fourth quarter of 2009, a 22.1 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2008, according to preliminary results by Gartner, Inc. It was the strongest year over year growth rate the worldwide PC market has experienced in the last seven years.

[…]

For the year, worldwide PC shipments totaled 306 million units (see Table 4), a 5.2 percent increase from 2008. PC shipment growth was driven by the consumer mobile PC market with acceleration of average selling prices (ASPs).

To recap: In early 2009, Gartner projects “sharpest unit decline in history.” At the end of the year, it reports “strongest growth rate in seven years.”

And you wonder why I put “Gartner predicts” right up there with “a report from DigiTimes” on my list of phrases that cause me to stop reading further.

You should too.

Update: How could I have forgotten this one, from August 25, 2006?

Vista will be the last version of Windows that exists in its current, monolithic form, according to Gartner.

Instead, the research firm predicts, Microsoft will be forced to migrate Windows to a modular architecture tied together through hardware-supported virtualisation. "The current, integrated architecture of Microsoft Windows is unsustainable - for enterprises and for Microsoft," wrote Gartner analysts Brian Gammage, Michael Silver and David Mitchell Smith. 

Yes, the last of its kind. Except for those 600 million copies of Windows 7.


Update 2: OK, just one more, from my own archives, May 2006: Gartner says Vista to ship in 2007.

Topics: PCs, Microsoft, Software, Windows

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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