Intel, Microsoft preparing channel for coming refresh

Windows 8 ScreenWhile the oft-repeated assertion that the PC is dead may be much closer to hyperbole than truth, it’s hard to deny that the traditional PC is, compared to the position it has enjoyed in recent years, “not at all well,” to borrow from the infamous Monty Python skit.

Some have adjusted their sights to include tablet computer numbers in overall PC numbers and paint a rosier picture, while others say that in keeping with the spirit of doing more with less, businesses and consumers are simply letting their existing PCs live on a bit longer.

But if there was a central message from both Intel and guest presenter Microsoft at Intel’s annual Solution Summit in Los Angeles last week, it had to be “don’t panic, the refresh is coming.”

Even if they believe it’s coming for slightly different reasons.

For CJ Bruno, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Americas business, the coming refresh is being driven by innovation. Much of the chipmaker’s presentation at the show featured the Ultrabook, and efforts to drive touch and voice controls further into the mainstream markets. It’s part of what the company describes as an effort to bring innovation back to the PC design market, a market which it says had become kind of staid and stuck in a rut leading up to the introduction of the Ultrabook concept.

“We have injected innovation into the industry again,” Bruno said of the growing number of thin-and-light models dominating the notebook PC market. Some of the may not qualify for the Ultrabook spec, but at worst have been inspired by the concept.

One of Bruno’s biggest requests of partners in attendance was their assistance in “revolutionizing clients again” with a new generation of Ultrabooks and all-in-one desktops. It’s part of a broader effort to “wake up” the owners of the 106.3 million or so four-year-old or older PCs still in use in North America. Bruno said its Intel’s duty to change the discussion with those PC owners and make sure they understand the benefits in performance, battery life, input/output advancements and other changes that have reinvented the PCs since last they purchased a machine.

At the Summit, the company showed off to customers the latest fronts in its efforts to foster innovation in the PC market – working with Nuance to make a Siri-like voice response interface out of Dragon Dictate, showing of facial recognition, touch in all form factors and all price points, wireless displays, and machines that support “always fresh” data, updating e-mail and other important connections even while the machine slumbers.

“We get that it’s the experience that drives the insatiable demand for these computing devices,” he said.

Bruno and his Intel teammates were followed on the main stage by Peter Han, vice president of Microsoft’s US OEM business. Han focused on two major topics as drivers of the refresh cycles: the maturing of Windows 8; and the demise of support for Windows XP.

On the subject of the new OS, Han deflected those who have started to compare the Windows 8 launch with the ill-fated disaster that was Windows Vista. The company says it was aware that Windows 8 is “paradigm-changing in a lot of ways,” and like any such major shift, it’s going to be a change that takes some time.

“What we’re seeing with Windows 8 is the beginning of a journey,” he said, later adding, “It’s going to be a multi-year journey.”

And that’s okay, he said, because Redmond has a plan. The first part of that plan was heavily focused on the consumer experience with Windows 8, but now it’s starting to tell the business story around the new operating system. Like Bruno, he posited that touch on a variety of screen sizes, on devices with price points starting at $299 and up, would drive application development and user acceptance for Windows 8 and its touch-heavy “tiles” interface. Particularly, he said, the company expects to see “a wealth of opportunity” in the 14-15-inch touch screen.

Han had less to say on the subject of hardware innovation that did Bruno, and unlike the Intel demo team, carefully avoided mention of the company’s own Surface tablets, which have been controversial in the channel due to their primarily direct mode of distribution. Rather, Han noted that the company’s goal was to “build, in partnership with Intel and our OEMs, devices and experiences that people love.”

If the maturity of Windows 8 is where Microsoft is counting to get its “pull” on users, it’s also got a big “push” in mind – namely, the end of support for Windows XP in April of next year.

Today, Han said, there are come 103 million Windows XP PCs still in use in the US alone, with about 17 million of those PCs in service for SMBs.

“There’s a huge install base that’s looking for that next-generation PC, and they’re going to have to move by April 2014 if they want things like security fixes and tech support,” Han said.

And here’s where the channel comes in: Han said some 55 per cent of those still on XP aren’t aware of the looming deadline, or the implications of running and out-of-support operating system. Han suggested that was a huge partner opportunity, and pledged support to build awareness.

“We’re going to be turning up the volume over the next year to make more people aware of their need to move the platform,” he said.