Microsoft Exec: PCs Are 'Likely' To Go Away, But Then Again, They Might Not


Steven Guggenheimer, vice president of Microsoft's Developer and Platform Evangelism group, recently offered some surprisingly unvarnished views on the future of the desktop PC.

"Over time, it's likely to go away," Guggenheimer said of the desktop PC in an interview with Techcrunch published Monday.

But in the same sentence, Guggenheimer, a 20-year Microsoft veteran, softened his stance.

Microsoft is facing "this weird balance between [the desktop] ending up being less critical over time, but it probably never goes away completely. Or if it does, it's hard to predict when," he told Techcrunch.

[Related: Microsoft COO Trash-Talks Himself Hoarse During Fiery Address To Partners]

Some partners would say "weird balance" is an apt description of Windows 8. Microsoft overhauled Windows for tablets and touch, but customers haven't warmed to the new user interface. Windows 8.1 could help, but some customers are planning to stay on Windows 7 for the time being.

That's because many companies rely on PCs and can't afford to invest the time and money in training their employees how to use Windows 8.

"While the world may surf and read email on mobile devices, most work happens on desktop PCs," Marc Harrison, president of Silicon East, a Manalapan, N.J.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN. "Until Microsoft -- or someone else -- finds a platform that increases office worker productivity, the desktop is here to stay."

Still, the PC market is in clear decline, while tablets are coming on strong. According to figures released last month, research firm Gartner expects tablet shipments to come close to matching PC shipments by the end of 2014.

Microsoft is hoping to get Windows running on many of these tablets, but it's setting its sights higher than that. In last week's reorganization announcement, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer referred to a "family" of devices running Windows several times.

At Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, COO Kevin Turner put a number on the size of the opportunity Microsoft sees beyond PCs.

"The new market opportunity goes from 338 million PCs to 2.9 billion devices every year," Turner said in a keynote at the conference.

So, while it may seem strange for Guggenheimer to even entertain the possibility of PCs becoming obsolete, all he's saying is that traditional computing may be replaced over time with mobile alternatives. But Microsoft still expects to get a big chunk of that business.

Ultimately, it's going to come down to what tasks the user wants to perform. Those who only consume information already have no need for PCs, while those that produce information are still more or less reliant on their desktops.

"I have yet to see a touch-centric device that will actually allow you to create textual data in a meaningful way. Screen keyboards are too slow to be useful for anything but short responses," one Microsoft partner told CRN, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the company.

PUBLISHED JULY 16, 2013