Windows devices: A cure for the post-PC plague?

Windows devices: A cure for the post-PC plague?

Summary: Microsoft is pushing ahead with efforts to blur the lines between computing devices running different flavors of Windows.


Long-time Softie Raymond Chen is famous (infamous?) for his "Microspeak" blog entries, where he translates into plain English the many words and pseudo-words used inside Redmond's hallowed halls.

I haven't seen Chen yet post an entry for what is likely to become one of the most important words to those attempting to track Microsoft's future performance. That word is "device."

We know that Microsoft is attempting to recast itself as a devices and services company. CEO Steve Ballmer recently said so. Then said so again.

One reason Microsoft is playing up the word "device" is the company is attempting to distance itself from "PC." If you aren't making PCs, you can't be disparaged as doing business in a post-PC world, right?

But there's another reason the Softies are moving to use the word "device" instead of PC. Device is a broader term that can be used to cover anything with an operating system in it. Phones are devices. Set top boxes are devices. TV remotes are devices. Medical imaging systems are devices. Surfaces, Microsoft's PC/tablets, are devices.

Check out a couple of relevant quotes from Microsoft's Chief Financial Officer Peter Klein from Microsoft's Q1 FY 2013 earnings call last week:

"We are bringing a new range of capabilities and scenarios to Windows and with support system-on-chip architecture we are moving beyond the traditional PC to the widest range of Windows hardware we have ever seen. New hardware will debut next week and will broaden over the coming months."

"One of the exciting things about Windows 8 is how it really redefines, so how people think about devices and the experiences they get across those devices and up until now, that’s sort of narrowly been defined as PCs or tablets and customers have been forced to choose and may trade-off, frankly of what they get. With Windows 8, you can kind of get whatever you want at whatever price point you want."

Klein told analysts on last week's call that Microsoft has "discontinued the bridge to the PC market as Windows 8 will be a platform across a broad set a form factors. As we go forward we will provide updated information and metrics about our business performance in the new context."

The last time Microsoft used "the bridge" was when it reported Q4 FY 2012 earnings. The bridge showed the ties between the PC market to the OEM revenue. The new argument is that the traditional definition of the “PC market” no longer exists, and as such, the bridge is no longer meaningful. Here's the last bridge, for posterity's sake:


My expectation is we're going to hear Microsoft talking about "Windows" as meaning everything from what's installed on consumer and business PCs, to what's installed on phones, to what's installed on gaming consoles (if rumors of the next version of Microsoft's Xbox OS being built on Windows is accurate). In reality, at least at the moment, it's not the same Windows powering all of these things. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 may share a common "core," but they are not the same OS. And Windows RT is yet another Windows variant, as myself and others have tried to explain.

But counting everything equally as "Windows" will allow Microsoft to claim a much bigger Windows base. (And likely will make it more complicated for analysts seeking to break out Windows Phone share vs. iPhone vs. Android phone share, as well as Windows tablet share vs. iPad share vs. Android tablet share.)

Forrester Research has a new report entitled "Windows: The Next Five Years," that reinforces this point. One of its key findings: "Microsoft Windows’ share Of all personal devices has shrunk to 30 percent" as a result of weakness in phones and tablets. But by 2016, the playing field will level out, according to Forrester's predictions, with no one vendor dominating the PC, tablet and smartphone categories.


"Windows 8 will simply stop the shrinking, maintaining Microsoft’s share at about 30% through 2016. By 2016, we believe that Microsoft will have about 27% of tablet unit sales, but only about 14% of smartphone sales (and some of us are very skeptical they’ll even get to 14%)," wrote Forrester analyst Frank Gillet in a blog post today.

Forrester's predictions aside, the one thing I can predict with near certainty is that we'll hear lots more references to "devices" than "PCs" during this week's Windows 8 and Surface RT launches.

Topics: Windows, Consumerization, Smartphones, Tablets, PCs


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Windows runs on stuff

    Like Caesar, Windows will become all things to all people. For Caesar, it was the beginning of the end.
    • LOL...

      You sure that's what led to Caesar's assassination, sounds a lot like revisionist history to me.
      widow maker
    • Even more so...

      The illusion of being "all things to all people" is what leads to a downfall. Actually doing it for real leads to overwhelming success. Criss crossing the issue with "red herring speak" sounds nice if your doing your best to discredit Microsoft but it dosnt change the fact that actually being all things to all people does not lead to downfall when its for real. Or even somewhat close to for real.
  • Microsoft's going to play

    Funny with the numbers. They'll hide the disappointing sales numbers for phones, and tablets, with the forced sales of Windows 8 to OEMs. They still haven't released sales numbers for the "zune HD", or and version of WP 7...
    Troll Hunter J
    • Change your handle...

      Should probably drop the Hunter J part - you're just a regular ole troll.

      How exactly can MS "force" Windows 8 on OEMs? Can't they simply not license the product and make Chromebooks or Linux PCs? Does MS have an army with an intelligence arm to keep dissenters in line?
      widow maker
      • "We have ways of making you vote for us...

        Or at least of causing you to abstain." Eva Perron
        When I was in the US Army officers and NCOs "had their ways" of getting the troops to do what they (the troops) should NOT have been obligated to do. MS has written the textbook on getting OEMs to comply with their wishes.
    • Hiding numbers

      "They still haven't released sales numbers for the "zune HD", or and version of WP 7..."

      Neither Apple has released sales numbers for their servers or Mac Pro's. So it looks like MS is not the only one hiding products with disappointing sales.
    • Disappointing how?

      Apple and Google have very strong sales and followings in tablets and phones. Any company that can come into strong competition like that and take 15-30% of the market in a few years is doing well.

      If nothing else, Microsoft is responding to Apple/Google to step up their competition and it looks like they have. Hopefully Apple/Google will respond by improving their operating systems and offerings.

      This is great for all of us. 3 big companies locked in a 3 way struggle for our business should produce better products at cheaper prices.

      Hopefully Android/Apple/Linux can make more of an impression on the PC market and things will be good.
      • Apple

        I feel is at more of an advantage here as they own both OS and Hardware. Google and Microsoft are mainly providing OS to a Phone manufacturer.
        Kunal Nanda
        • Apple also decides when that support ends

          and effectively obsoletes their devices to encourage users to upgrade or their refusal to use industry standards like USB/MicroSD and instead use their own proprietary ports. Apple being in control of everything is a benefit and a curse. Perhaps some tighter competition will change some of that.

          Microsoft has a terrible track record on phones so far, but their support for their core operating system can set them apart from the upgrade troubles of Apple/Google. Microsoft is willing to support their operating systems for over 10 years on a staggering array of hardware. Winphone8, WindowsRT and Windows8 all share the same core, so they should be much easier to keep updated.
        • Kunal

          If you hail from India, you would know, apple is not affective outside US. Ipad is still a fantasy for many
          Jitendra Singh G
          • Yep

            I can understand where you're coming from on that. Even here, those puppies are usually out of reach but as with all gadgets here, the Godda Have and Easy Payments, does it. I was hoping the MS Slate would bring tablets back down to earth on prices; silly me. :-/
            Paw Angel
    • Come on now, SC

      can't you stick with just 1 name like the rest of us?
      William Farrel
    • Make it easy on yourself and just link back to your other posts

      under your SeanConnery007 name. You know you're the only one that keeps bring up the 'Zune HD', not 'Zune', but Zune HD specificly

      "Yep, and right out of Microsoft's playbook they can't produce numbers

      Just like Kin
      Just like Zune
      Just like Zune HD.

      Ever notice if sales are not that great, Microsoft hides the numbers?"
      William Farrel
    • Forced sales to OEM's? Interesting take. Interesting but misleading.

      Nobody is forced to do anything. Lets get that out of the way right away. Yes, many situations in life lead directly to a particular course of action when there is a specific goal involved that must be met, but people who do not like where that leads them can change their goals if thats what has to be done to arrive at a BETTER solution.

      Yes, the OEM's have a goal they feel must be met; putting the latest Windows OS on their equipment. And again, if they do not like that, they could change that goal if they have reason to believe it would give them a better result. This isnt a guess, prediction or speculation, its a fact. There are plenty of Linux enthusiasts right here on ZDNet who will happily tell you that Linux is a better choice. It dosnt mean they are right, it simply means nobody is forced to install any particular OS.

      The bottom line is that the OEM's know what side their bread is buttered on and they dont want much to do with Linux so yes, Windows 8 is the better choice in their mind and sales of OEM equipment with Windows 8 on it are every bit as legitimate as any Windows 8 sales.

      You post seems to indicate that unless someone goes out and buys a Windows 8 upgrade or a Windows 8 disk for something they built themselves it dosnt count. This is the most bizarre and disingenuous take on Windows 8 sales imaginable. I guess the next step is to say Apples sales of OSX are horribly misleading because we have no idea just how many people purchase a Mac for the hardware but we have no real clue as to how many would actually rather have the Mac hardware with Windows or Linux on it as opposed to OSX.

      You know, the simple fact that most computer hardware could, sometimes with a little work, have any of the popular OS's on it, dosnt mean that alone makes the computer sales industry so incredibly different than other businesses. People by cars, homes and any number of devices with various features and their own issues. Its not unusual for people to think to themselves that this particular car would suit me a little better with this particular engine from another manufacturer, or this particular dvice is great but they should have included this feature like the other manufacturer did. It happens. But certain devices, homes, cars or yes, even computers come built a certain way. If you dont like it, dont buy it, the final beauty of computers is that you can indeed build one yourself or have one built for you quite cheap and have whatever you want in it with Linux on it if thats what you want, and yes, even with some work, OSX on it.

      A sale is a sale. We dont accuse FORD of not REALLY selling a certain number of copies of a particular engine just because people who buy a certain car are "forced" to take it with that engine.

      Get real.
  • raymond chen is famous for...

    powertoys. remember those?
  • Market predictions

    Sorry, but it is hard to follow the rationale of these predictions of market share. Why will Google's Chrome OS simply stall, when, in fact, Chromebooks look like a best-in-class value proposition?

    Have you factored in how the maturing cloud computing sector will affect software-platform decisions?

    Finally, do you have a track record in predicting how market share of computing devices will evolve, even for a single year in advance????
    • There isn't much reliability in this kind of predictions

      You may remember the forcast of ultrabooks have been cut more than 50% for a prediction not much longer than half a year. Numbers like 7%, 14% , 27% .. are made up by some pseudo experts and suggest a complicated, scientific calculation is the basis for the 3 years prediction. Probably the experts are only astrologists or paid by Microsoft. The reality will be totally diffrent an many people will be surprised.
      • Yes

        Including you !!!
        Jitendra Singh G
    • How it chromebook best in class?

      Even the new chromebook is only about $50 cheaper than a budget windows notebook or desktop.

      That same notebook/desktop can run the chrome browser to do everything the chromebook can and still run millions of other programs.

      It has potential, but still has a way to go if people are going to be convinced to buy into it.