With HP out of the PC business, which vendor becomes Microsoft's new champion?

The biggest PC vendor, HP, is getting out of the PC business. What's this mean, if anything, about the future of Windows?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

HP is -- and now, was -- the No. 1 Windows PC vendor. On August 18, HP announced it is selling off its PC business, dropping webOS and discontinuing the TouchPad so as to focus on enterprise software and cloud services.

What's this mean for Windows and Microsoft?

Opinions are all over the map. Intensifying the matter is the fact that Microsoft is a year or less away from rolling out Windows 8. Traditionally, HP has been a tight partner for the Redmondians, especially given HP's decision to hang tough with Windows-based touch PCs and tablets.

Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Asus and Toshiba are still selling PCs. (A lot of them, according to Gartner's Q2 worlwide shipment data.) Any of these companies could and most likely will take up the Windows touch-PC and touch-tablet mantle, as could recently rumored buyer Samsung--  or which ever vendor ends up buying HP's PC business.

I don't see this HP's sell-off as the PC death-knell or even an acknowledgement that 30 years after the PC's birth, we're now officially in the post-PC era. Instead, I'm hoping it will be an opportunity for a new, more risk-taking and innovative PC maker to swoop in as the new PC champion. I have to say I've never been overly enamored of HP PCs. They always seemed to be lacking a feature I wanted (or having another I didn't). The more interesting new Windows form factors, especially in the thin-and-light category, haven't come from HP in the past year or two.

But if and when another vendor buys HP's PC business, they're going to be facing the same challenging consumer PC and tablet environment that HP has endured. My ZDNet colleage Larry Dignan quoted HP CEO Leo Apotheker's remarks on the no-win situation HP found itself facing:

"Consumers are changing the use of their PC. The tablet effect is real and sales of the TouchPad are not meeting our expectations…The velocity of change in the personal device marketplace continues to increase as the competitive landscape is growing increasingly more complex especially around the personal computing arena. There’s a clear secular movement in the consumer PC space. The impact of the economy has impacted consumer sales and the tablet effect is real and our TouchPads has not been gaining enough traction in the marketplace. For our PC business to remain the world’s largest personal computing business it needs the flexibility and agility to make decisions best for its user direction."

Meanwhile, note to Microsoft: If you need some give-away tablets to put a first Windows 8 test build on for attendees of your Build conference -- maybe you could help HP and Best Buy unload some of those TouchPads (retrofitted to run Windows 8) ...

What's your take on HP's exit from the PC business? What's it mean for other PC makers -- and Microsoft -- in your view?  And who do you think will become the new reigning Windows PC king?

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