Yes Frank, the horse has left the barn– it’s not Plus PC, it’s Past PC

horse-and-barn_thumb Featured Opinion OK so I like Frank Shaw.  I liked him when he worked at Waggener Edstrom, although we never really dealt directly together, and I like him at Microsoft.  I also quite like him as a person, as a writer, and as an adversary on Twitter (more on that in a bit).  Two of my favorite acts of public relations coming out of Microsoft recently came from Frank Shaw, when he listed Microsoft “by the numbers” , and when he got into a “slapfight” the Google lawyers over a recent patent spat.

So when Shaw prompted his Twitter followers to “discuss” his latest blog post, this one entitled “Where the PC is headed: Plus is the New ‘Post’”, I responded, and we had quite a discussion (well for Twitter anyway).  Shaw’s position in the post, and in our Twitter back and forth after that, is basically that PCs aren’t going away, “it’s a long game”, and Microsoft will “persist and endure”: they’ve done it before (Shaw specifically cites netbooks, but the list is long), and they’ll do it again.

Only this time, the market has moved past PCs.  Or, as I allude to in my final tweet in our little exchange, “why close the barn door after the horse is gone?”  Shaw, and Microsoft, apparently (although I hope against hope that not everyone takes his position on this), seem to think that a strategy of taking the long view, to “endure and persist” will allow Microsoft to prevail.  Or, as Shaw says, “there is no barn”.

Microsoft may well think that the world has not moved past PCs, that the iPad is just another netbook.  But of course they’d be wrong.  Shaw is right that “we use our tools to create, collaborate, communicate and consume”.  The problem with computers is, like books before the printing press, it has been nearly as difficult to consume as to create.  Instead of hand copying with quill tip pens, we configure our PCs at our desks and install device drivers.  In proper balance, we’re far more likely on the whole to consume and communicate than to create, and creation is the only thing the PC is specifically good at.  For everything else, we can, and rapidly are, moving past the PC.

Brian S. Hall goes so far as to “decode” Shaw’s post, and while some of his vitriol is a little over the top, he captures what Shaw can’t seem to fathom:

In the past year, and again in the past few weeks, I’ve seen a resurgence of the term “post” applied to the PC in a number of stories including The Wall Street Journal, PC World and the Washington Post. Heck, I even mentioned it in my 30th anniversary of the PC post, noting that “PC plus” was a better term.

Translation: Everyone but Microsoft, even staid old media, has come to accept that the PC is dead.  

A new thing shows up, kills the old thing, end of story. But in the world of technology, it’s rarely (but not never) that clear cut. Most of the time, in fact, new objects enhance and complement the things we’ve already got. They don’t replace them.

Translation: Those that do the “enhancing” and “complementing” wind up earing all the money. Microsoft will still be around. Just not making any new money.   

Because creating and collaborating are two of the most basic human drives, and are central to the idea of the PC. They move our culture, economy and world forward. You see their fingerprints in every laboratory, startup, classroom, and community.

Translation: You see them gathering dust in every laboratory, startup, classroom and community. Smartphones and tablets; that’s the real action. That’s how people collaborate now, with other people, data, services. Not on the PC.

At Microsoft, we envision a future where increasingly powerful devices of all kinds will connect with cloud services to make it all the more easier for us social beings to create, communicate, collaborate and consume information. I encourage you to tune into our BUILD conference in mid-September where our vision for this world of devices will become clearer.

Translation: And our hand to God, we’ll deliver on that future. In 2018.

So while it’s fun for the digerati to pronounce things dead, and declare we’re post-PC, we think it’s far more accurate to say that the 30-year-old PC isn’t even middle aged yet, and about to take up snowboarding.

Translation: We are blind. And stupid. And doomed.

Will there be PCs in our foreseeable future?  Of course.  We’ll be using them to create and collaborate (and to consume and communicate, while we’re at our desks) for many years to come.  Only there will be millions (billions?) more who don’t need Office, who don’t need dual monitors or desks, and who, for the first time, will be able (are able) to communicate and consume on a grand scale.  If Microsoft persists and endures to try and bring them back to the PC, they are indeed doomed.  Let’s hope there’s a brighter future at Build and beyond than that.