PC Shipments to Decline Through 2009

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PC shipments will continue to fall through 2009, according to analyst group, IDC. The group estimates that for the full year, numbers will be down 4.5 percent versus 2008, with a whopping 8 percent decline in just the first half of 2009. To which I say, it's about time.

The PC hardware upgrade cycle has always frustrated me. Yes, new software often drives the requirement for new hardware. That relationship was clear in the beginning of the decade, with every PC transitioning to a video-editing, media-capable system. Games have always driven hardware upgrades. As graphics and AI get more realistic, games naturally demand more computing power.

But for business use, hardware upgrades often superfluous. Will I need a new system to run the next version of Office? If so, why? Is the spell checker going to add so many new abilities that it'll justify new hardware?

This forced hardware lifespan extension is a silver lining to economic instability. Business should take back their machines, adding RAM, hard drives, and other updates instead of blindly replacing systems. And you can even use an old PC in other, less-demanding ways; set it up as a Linux server.

Hopefully hardware companies will react to declining sales. IDC says the netbook market is expanding, projecting twice as many sales this year as last. These light laptops are appealing because they handle basic tasks--email, web, productivity software--on a budget. That might be all your business needs.

Software companies are critical to extend the hardware life-cycle. They need to keep lowering requirements to hit more systems. Even Microsoft, ever-conscious of driving hardware growth for its partners, might begin releasing less demanding software. Hopefully Windows Server Foundation Edition is a beginning step.

Even without the economic necessity to hang onto hardware longer, the rise of web applications adds even more life to an old system. Cloud computing can offload heavy system requirements so a PC needs only basic abilities: input devices, an Internet connection, and only limited video and computing power.

Businesses should think twice before tossing an old PC. Software developers will find more customers by catering to a PC's second act, and businesses will save on hardware costs.

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