Former Microsoft visionary joins post-PC chorus

Mar 9, 2012 7:04 AM
Gartner expects slow growth.

Former Microsoft tech visionary Ray Ozzie has backed recent claims the world has moved past the PC, potentially leaving behind the world's largest software company.

Microsoft's foundation has been nudged aside by powerful phones and tablets running Apple and Google software, the former Microsoft executive said.

"People argue about 'are we in a post-PC world?'. Why are we arguing? Of course we are in a post-PC world," Ozzie said at a technology conference run by tech blog GeekWire in Seattle on Wednesday.

"That doesn't mean the PC dies, that just means that the scenarios that we use them in, we stop referring to them as PCs, we refer to them as other things."

Ozzie was making his first public comments on Microsoft since stepping down from the tech giant abruptly in 2010.

He spoke just hours after Tim Cook, the chief executive of Microsoft's arch-rival Apple, stressed the emergence of the "post-PC world" forged by the iPad.

The 56-year old legendary programmer, who developed e-mail application Lotus Notes in the 1980s and 1990s, was hand-picked by Gates to take over his role of chief software architect in 2006 for his skills in web-based collaboration.

Microsoft future hinges on Windows 8

Ozzie was central in the creation of Microsoft's Windows Azure project but he left four years later with Microsoft still trailing Amazon and Google in providing web-based products.

"My job there was primarily a change management job. I was asked by Bill [Gates] and Steve [Ballmer, the CEO] to come in, look at the company, decide what was broken and try your best to fix it," said Ozzie.

"I feel very good about a number of things that did change. The company's a lot different now, it's come a long way and I'm happy about some things and I'm impatient about other things."

Ozzie said the fate of Windows 8 would determine Microsoft's future.

The latest version of the company's operating system will work on tablets powered by low-power ARM chips, which Microsoft hopes will allow it to rival Apple's iPad, and put the company back at the cutting edge of consumer technology.

"If Windows 8 shifts in a form that people really want to buy the product, the company will have a great future," said Ozzie.

"In any industry, if people look at their own needs, and look at the products and say, 'I understand why I had it then, and I want something different', they will not have as good a future. It's too soon to tell."

Windows 8 may help Microsoft bridge the gap to the post-PC world, but the "doom and gloom" scenario for the company is people switching to portable, non-Windows devices, said Ozzie.

"It's a world of phones and pads and devices of all kinds, and our interests in general purpose computing -- or desktop computing -- starts to wane and people start doing the same things and more in other scenarios."

Gartner pegs slow growth

Analyst firm Gartner appeared to agree, forecasting just 368 million PCs shipped during 2012; a 4.4 percent growth on last year.

Though manufacturers have been hit by Thailand's devastating floods, the analyst firm pinned slowed growth largely at a lack of innovation on PCs in recent years.

"PC shipments will remain weak in 2012, as the PC market plays catch up in  bringing a new level of innovation that consumers want to see in devices they purchase,” said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. 

“The real question is whether Windows 8 and ultrabooks will create the compelling offering that gets the earlier adopter of devices excited about PCs again.”

The possible PC revival may come as consumers have already developed new preferences for specific-type uses for tablets, fracturing the once-unified market.

It is expected 2012 sales will be dominated by tablets from Apple as well as those using Android, but also a Windows 8 OS aimed at the lighter form factor. 

“The evolution of the personal cloud will challenge vendors across all mobile devices markets and add to the hurdles for PC vendors to overcome to revive the PCs and differentiate them from tablets,” Atwal said.

“The creation of content capabilities of PCs may not be enough to counteract the better content consumption capabilities of media tablets."

Gartner said it did not expect PCs to recover strong growth until 2013, by which time the industry should have recovered from the hard disk drive woes and innovation deficiencies that plagued the industry in 2011 and 2012.

 

(Reporting by Liam Tung and Bill Rigby; editing by Ed Davies)