Windows 7's demise gives hope to PC sales this year

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This article appeared in the February 2019 issue of CRN magazine.

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Windows 7's demise gives hope to PC sales this year

Everybody in the channel knows that PC sales have fallen for years, but counter to that trend, 2019 looks like being a good year for deals based around putting computers onto business desktops and laps.

“Demand is there,” Gartner principal analyst Lillian Tay told CRN. “The end of Windows 7 support in 2020 and the push to modern PCs has businesses ready to spend.”

Microsoft’s efforts to make Windows 10 and Office 365 perform best on newer PCs are paying off, she added.

“A lot of things that Microsoft is doing are really cool, especially on Office 365,” said Tay. “Users are liking the modern workplace story more and more. Windows 10 is a new way and modern way of actually doing your work. There are things Microsoft is showcasing that let you do things faster and smarter, but it is a bit harder if you are on an older PC using Windows 7.”

Microsoft’s innovations are attractive, said Tay, because businesses have come to understand that their teams benefit from powerful PCs. “The PC is heading more towards a creation tool rather than a productivity tool,” she said. “There are so many other platforms for email and Office. The rich computing power and storage and extensive RAM is where the power of the PC lies.”

IT departments want to upgrade, too, she said.

“For IT the security story behind Windows 10 gives more reassurance. Microsoft cloud and management services also work better on Windows 10, which again drives IT to want to move.”

Cloud drives the desktop

Gaba Cheng, Acer’s general manager for product management, agrees that cloud platforms are driving device choices.

“One of the directions in the market is moving users to cloud suites to get those features and benefits,” said Cheng. Organisations’ choice of cloud therefore drives their choice of device, he said. Those who choose Office 365 pick Windows 10 devices, while G Suite users are more open to selecting Chromebooks.

The education market is the main Chromebook buyer, said Gartner’s Tay, with enterprise buyers accounting for just 20 percent of sales and schools most of the rest, with consumers contributing a few points of market share. But she added that a Chromebook choice doesn’t preclude use of Office 365.

Cheng added that the fact devices are sold at the same time organisations make a decision about their cloud strategy helps hardware vendors to keep PC prices low, because they know they’ll pick up some extra profit on subscription services.

Tardis screens

On the hardware front, Cheng said 2019 will be the year in which laptop screens grow, but laptops themselves don’t.

“We are trying to focus on screen-to-body ratio,” said Cheng.

Mark Fenson, HP Inc’s business and mobility systems evangelist, agrees 2019’s laptop trend is for 14-inch screens in laptops of a size that would previously have offered a 13-inch display. When possible, buyers will want that screen to have 4K resolution, in part because corporate buyers want to offer devices that deliver the kind of experiences their staff expect as consumers.

That desire also means thin and light laptops are in demand in 2019, with long battery life on most vendors’ feature lists, especially for premium business devices. It’s not just gadget lust fuelling that trend: businesses increasingly expect mobile work, so see portable PCs that don’t send workers scurrying in search of a power point as essential.

Is this thing on?

Another emphasis in 2019 PCs is the microphone.

Lenovo ANZ managing director Matt Codrington tells CRN that increasing numbers of buyers expect their PCs to excel when used in videoconferencing. Lenovo has therefore emphasized far-field microphones in its PCs, as they can filter out some environmental noise and make it easier to participate in a conference.

Lenovo’s also added a plastic shutter to both cameras on its PCs. This tiny piece of plastic slides over a camera to block its view, a simple security precaution.

Some of Lenovo’s laptops also now come with a feature called PrivacyGuard that makes it impossible to view the screen unless you are sitting directly in front of the machine. HP Inc’s SureView has done the same for years and is still present in many models and continues to be enhanced.

That such a feature appears in devices from two top PC-makers again reflects the expectation that end-users will work in all sorts of locations, but require security in whatever setting they select.

More universal enhancements dangled before buyers in 2019 include 8th-generation Intel Core CPUs, near-ubiquitous USB-C for charging and connectivity, PC-as-a-service and enhancements to remote management toolkits.

But the biggest source of innovation in 2019 lies beyond the device itself, in PC-as-a-service (PCaaS) programs.

All of the PC vendors we spoke to for this story – Acer, Dell, HP Inc. and Lenovo – have created PCaaS programs, either through distributors or with their own resources. Or sometimes a combination of both.

Gartner’s Lillian Tay said “PCaaS is leasing with a new name and some managed services to take work off the plate of IT – taking away day-to-day break/fix and password resets. That kind of mundane thing can be outsourced.”

But the general manager of Dell EMC’s ANZ client solutions group Robert Vinokurov thinks there’s more to PCaaS than re-invented leases and simple services.

“The overwhelming driving factor in the market appears to be a broad move towards digital transformation,” he tells CRN, and that transformation can include changes to the way organisations procure and pay for devices.

Buyers’ consideration for PCs, therefore “becomes more about the ecosystem than the device itself.”

“The core of what we do continues to be building world-class devices. What is just as important is the ecosystem: deployment, support, all the bits and pieces.”

While there’s broad agreement that PCaaS offers periodic payments for a bundle of PCs and services, there’s no fixed list of ingredients for a definitive service. And then there’s the prospect that Microsoft will launch its own PCaaS programs. The company already offers its Surface devices, but has posted job ads suggesting it has broader ambitions and has also launched support services for Windows 7 desktops running in Azure. There’s also speculation about whether Windows 10 updates will remain free forever.

So while there’s plenty for PC buyers to get interested in during 2019, perhaps the most profound changes are still to come.

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