What Now for Hardware Vendors?

PC sales are down, way down, and falling. At least, typical PC sales (I tend to agree with the view that tablets can be classed as PCs) and, while I doubt we’ll ever see the end of desktop computing, that market is going to continue to shrink. For now, tablets may fill the void, but they’ll give way to smartphone all-in-one devices at some point.

This drop in sales isn’t news to most people, but I was surprised to find that it’s not just desktops and laptops, server sales are in decline as well. You’d think that with the rise of web and cloud services, along with the general return to client-server style architecture, they’d be on the up.

The problem is that, while everyone used to buy their own servers, one for each job/role, over-buying on the specs to ensure future-proofing, perhaps even buying a backup device, more and more people are opting for virtualisation (it’s estimated that by 2014 as much as 70% of new servers could be virtual). That means fewer boxes as the resources of one machine can be used to serve multiple tasks.

Added to this is the fact that the big boys (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc) are building their own hardware, and allow people to buy those services as and when they need it, rather than having hardware sitting idle for most of its life.

It’s not just about better utilisation though, we’ve reached the point where we have more than enough computing power to do the majority of tasks. In fact, as far as desktop PCs are concerned, we probably reached that point several years ago. That’s part of the reason for the growth in tablets: the relatively little processing power they possess is more than capable. Continue reading

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The 7″ Surface

So PC sales are falling, big time, there’s a shock. To protect its two cash cows (Windows and Office), Microsoft has jumped into the hardware market to try and guarantee it can expand onto devices other than the serves and workstations that have been its mainstay for the last 30 years.

By all accounts, it’s not going well, with Surface sales poor, while Nokia is still struggling to make headway against Apple and Samsung (although sales of their Lumia range are improving). It’s too early to tell how it’ll pan out, Microsoft has a history of starting slow in new markets, but it has deep enough pockets to stick around to get it right.

So it was with interest I noted the potential launch of a smaller Surface tablet, 7- and/or 8-inch models are rumoured. Add to that the likelihood that Windows Phone is due to have 1080p output by the end of the year and you have some interesting specs to roll together.

Compared to their rivals, the Surface tablets feature quite a lot of connectivity options. Even the lowest model comes with a USB slot, a microSD expansion slot and an HD video out port. These are in addition to Bluetooth support. Continue reading

The XP Subscription Model

The venerable Windows XP operating system is due to be completely retired in April 2014. First introduced back in 2001, it has stood the test of time, with many people still happily using it and holding a significant market share.

Microsoft obviously wants to move on and doesn’t want to support code that’s now well over a decade old. For many consumers XP is good enough though. Some are so familiar with it that the massive changes in Windows 8 forces them up a significant learning curve (and it’s an OS that has been criticised for its lack of usability).

So why keep turning over new operating systems? Apple’s OS X has been around about as long as XP and has required very few changes to the interface in that time. My suspicion is that, as one of Microsoft’s big earners, they need to keep producing new versions so consumers and businesses will keep buying them.

So I’m proposing an alternative revenue model for Microsoft, so they can keep updating XP into the future: subscriptions. It seems to be the way they’re going anyway, so why not offer existing XP users a £12 a year (£1 a month) subscription to keep XP? I’d guess you’re looking at millions of existing users, so while that doesn’t sound like much, it should be plenty to support a team of developers to keep releasing patches and updates.

I No Longer Use the Power Button

I’ve written several times about how the long boot time on a normal operating system needed to be trimmed (I was looking at Windows, but it could have applied to any), especially with the rise of instant-on devices like tablets and smartphones.  I even installed a solid-state drive to speed up the process on one of my machines.

I’ve since built a lower-power computer, one that draws almost nothing when sleeping and now I only power down my PC when I’m away for a few days, otherwise it’s either on or asleep, never more than a mouse wiggle or random key-press away.

The reason for the change is simple: speed. Even with the developments in boot times, turning on a computer is still a long process.  Several minutes at least. I could have checked my email, news feeds and a ton of other stuff in that time on a tablet.

Using sleep mode means my machine is completely usable in a few seconds (almost as fast as a tablet but not quite) and I can put it to sleep in about the same time. It’s an area Windows 8 has brought improvements to (as it has to boot times). By the time I’ve entered my password on the lock screen the system has already checked my email and begun grabbing updates where it can so I don’t have to wait. Continue reading

Thoughts on Being Able to Code

I’ve been going through some of my old posts recently, and I stumbled across one that was rather relevant considering the recent headlines grabbed by the Raspberry Pi, the £25 computer designed to let kids get back to writing code on simpler computers.

In a previous post, I asked who would write tomorrow’s code and decided that I thought more non-programmers would write code, by using visual tools or predefined code blocks to cobble together working apps.  To an extent those tools already exist (you can build iPhone Apps with zero code).

The Beeb also asked the question of whether kids want to learn to code, and the reaction seems very mixed (understandably so, not everyone will go on to do jobs in the programming sector, I’d argue being able to code in some way is sneaking in everywhere, from search terms to Excel formulas). Continue reading

Trawling the Archives

One of the things I lost in the move from self-hosted to wordpress.com was my custom snippet post type.  It was an attempt to create a Tumblr-esque quick post mechanism, and it worked.  But the way the links were stored meant they didn’t get exported, so every thing in the snippets category lost its link to the source material and some where just orphaned headlines with no link or description.

So I’ve manually gone through and added source links and, in many cases, some information about the original article (some made no sense so out of context).

The process of adding the links doing forced me to re-read many of those articles and my predictions and comments and it made some interesting reading, so I thought I would sum a few of them up (some will make it to their own posts).

Tablet Computers

Back in 2008 I posted about the TechCrunch tablet, which evolved, through bitter dispute, into the JooJoo or whatever it was called, and promptly died a death.  I think the concept is still valid (a simpler tablet to the iPad) and the iPad has obviously proved we were on to something. Continue reading

I’m Not Convinced by Web TV

The big thing from CES seems to have been web-enabled TVs, again.  We seem to have been talking about them for some time, but they have yet to materialise in homes as far as I can see.

Watching this report from the BBC I didn’t see anything that would drive me out to buy a connected TV.

Now, I have a media centre PC, I’ve had one for years, so you could argue I already have a connected TV, I have access to the internet and online content.  I rarely use it for that though.  Why?  Well, because when I’m watching a program, I’m watching a program.  I don’t want to hide it while I look something up, I’d do that on a separate device (a tablet or laptop).  Which is what Scoble says in the report.  The negative point is it means looking away from a programme.

Continue reading