Placing my head in a bucket with a small hole drilled in the bottom, I wander around aimlessly, looking for the sense I lost in a sea of sand...one granule is what I seek...only one...
That sense is really a decision to see the good in all things and is born and reborn of the choice one makes to seek it out and of the discipline required to ignore all that is perceived to be bad around it - one granule in a sea of sand.
When what one does for a living is design and build personal computers, it can be very easy to get lost and lose sight of why we do it - with so many changes impacting the PC industry and so many pressures on builders, large and small, it is all too easy to get swept away in a sea of negative energy. Costs are up - way up, and margins could not be more down. Differentiation is all but impossible for smaller builders who have less access to the resources large builders have to develop compelling case designs with a fashionable twist - a nice trend driving some laptop sales. All in one designs are attractive, but expensive [to buy and build], underpowered and only fit a very small segment of the market - where too few people are willing to drop so much for so little on a second computer, or as a replacement for the primary systems people usually pass down as they moved up - moving up to less power? Not gonna happen...
It is little wonder why PC sales are not only not growing like they could, but why they offer so little profit essential to those building them.
What did it? What killed the PC? On what date did the PC die?
On March 10, 2000 the "X-box Project" was officially confirmed by Microsoft, and on that date, the PC died. Microsoft, killed the personal computer as we knew it. We didn't know it, but Microsoft did [more on why they did it later on in this article].
While Microsoft would not launch the original Xbox until November 15th, 2001 [in North America], the stake that would eventually kill the PC had already been driven home - the moment Microsoft announced that they intended to enter into the gaming and entertainment console business. One can't fault Microsoft, they are a software company and too many people forget that. Microsoft builds software for everything and creating or driving markets into which their software is sold is not only their right, but part of their corporate responsibility. Regardless, Microsoft killed the personal computer - actions that would eventually strip it of everything personal, less the pretty paint and colored plastic seen on some laptops. Microsoft's decision gutted an industry and eviscerated all but a few very agile and inventive small builders who bake services into their wares and sell hardware as part of a more comprehensive offering.
Microsoft's decision had two additional and predictable consequences, Apple, who sells the perception of a life-style, would survive and prosper [as just another OEM builder - after all, how many more Windows and Microsoft Office licenses are sold to those buying Macs?], and enthusiasm for personal computers would wane as what was left of the computer business fought for market share based on price. As millions and then hundreds of millions of low-powered, under-protected and unmanaged PC's flooded the market, the magic wore off at a rate about equal to the increased instances of mal-ware infections. The PC had officially become a commodity and boring - and no amount of colored plastic was going to change that.
Microsoft's decision had another, and I assess anticipated consequence, Windows Vista would take a beating. After all, where there is little enthusiasm for the PC as a platform, how much tolerance could exist for a new operating system and all the bumps and horns that come with them in their first year of life? As a commodity the PC had no power to bolster itself, much less a new OS that was vastly more complex than its predecessor.
The second Microsoft announced plans for the Xbox, it signaled PC gamers and enthusiasts that they no longer mattered to the company. Notice is said, the company, and not necessarily the people who work in it, or lead it. I am sure there are islands of people within Microsoft that did not agree with the change in direction. I am also fairly certain that the change occurred at a time when there were a great many distractions impacting the company and its leaders related to the anti-trust case against it. I've been through some soul searching changes in my own business and it's tough stuff. I'm quite certain senior leaders at Microsoft were hurt and way down deep where it sticks for a bit. By the time things settled down, the PC was dead as an object of affection and more and different types of software had to be built. Its death, like the move of software and connected intelligence into all things electrical, was inevitable. The Digital Natives had taken over everything was, "Meh" or worse, "I want my meh right now!" Industry influencers just a few years older were too busy buying houses and birthing babies to give a flip - they were busy getting used to the idea that they weren't bullet proof after all.
Gamers mattered. PC Enthusiasts mattered [so often one in the same]. Both groups were bent over and ...<This is where you are invited to insert your own creative strings of expletives> <Use your imagination and make any Navy Chief blush and run for cover in the nearest brothel>. Gamers mattered to the PC. They didn't and don't matter to Microsoft, or any other software, or consumer electronics company. The PC needed gamers and it needed enthusiastic young people to love it. Without support from a company like Microsoft, the PC died and its most important base of users was betrayed and left out in the cold.
Games for Windows - Peoples Exhibits 'A' 'B' 'C' 'D' 'E' and 'F' [Your Honor... the prosecution rests...]
Games for Windows my giddy aunt... there are barely enough titles to justify the plural form of the word, "game." The image above, taken at the Best Buy in Hoover, Alabama says it all... even the sign, which I tried to fix, is broken. Slapped up there like some after thought, the sign had a single peg that wouldn't hold its own weight. It sagged haplessly over a dismal selection of titles, seemingly cast aside like misfit toys on Christmas Eve. Stalking [as in hunting] one's way through stacks of discounted Sony Play Station 3 40 GB systems, I was on a mission - buy two copies of Unreal Tournament III - one for myself and our younger boys and one for my eldest Son, Chris. UT3 isn't even an official Games for Windows title and as if to further communicate just how bad things are, the UT3 "DVD" comes packaged in one of the older thick multi-disc CDROM cases - most likely picked up at reduced bulk rates by the game's distributors. In the background, one of the legion of "Guitar Queero's" can be seen jamming to a song he can listen to, but will likely never "hear."
Just a short detour...
The drive home was pretty quiet. Normally we'd have jabbered on and on about how we were going to set up a gaming server and tear it up for a few hours. It was kind of sad, but telling... while we had wisely aligned our company to suite the new market a decade ahead of the changes that flattened many others, there wasn't much satisfaction in it at all. Hardware + Software + full-Services can be and are compelling and we're glad we continue to prosper, but we miss our PC Brothers in Arms - we even miss the competition. We miss the youthful enthusiasm.
When we got to our home my son installed UT3 to one of the custom media systems we built - an older AV centric P4 running Vista Ultimate and fitted with an Nvidia 8800 GTS SD [768 MB RAM]. While not a screamer, it holds its own with a WEI of 4.8 [lower due to the older CPU]. The rig is connected via a DVI to HDMI adapter to a 52" LCD and runs at 1920 x 1080P. The image is stunning to say the least and this PC, as a media test platform, has been tougher than woodpecker lips. It still amazes us by running so well, despite the pounding its life as a test mule has exposed it to. It's running the latest WHQL video drivers and SP1 RTM for Vista and just as through every month before, it still runs as flawlessly as when it was born.
Chris set up the game and rammed its settings sliders hard over - 1920 x 1080, it would be, or we'd build until it was...anything less would not be accepted. As Chris played UT3 the imagery was incredible and the PC delivered delicious frame after butter-smooth frame. It was flawless in terms of technical performance and simply amazing to watch. A couple of the older boys came in the den and echoes of "Whoa" and "Man... great graphics; what game is that?" were exclaimed. "UT3 on the By God PC!" was Chris' answer - he didn't say the words; he didn't have to; his face said it all - as he blasted his way to victory after victory in Deathmatch and Capture the Flag events.
The younger boys didn't bite and back to Call of Duty 4 on the 360 and reality we all went... woo little hoo hoo and whoop little whoop d' doo...
CoD4 wouldda, shouldda, couldda been on the PC as a hit - humbling every console before it... but it isn't... it's on the 360 where Plug-N-Play really is plug and play. Without Microsoft leading and developing for the PC, gamers and enthusiasts never had a chance. Again, it isn't Microsoft's fault - they are, as we must all finally understand, a software company and a public corporation. They had no real choice but to kill the PC - after all, there is so much more out here that requires software.
Back to my bucket...
"It echoes in here...." not akin to blinders at all, but discipline... "I'm not taking it off until I see the good in this and all things..."
"It's all a personal computer - all of it - everything is my PC... everything..." My PC; your PC; our Personal Computers... all of them are no longer limited to just one place; one box, or one room. My PC is my PC. Our Xbox is my PC, too. My Zune is my PC. My car is my PC. My business and all its servers are my PC. They are all my PC and they are all connected and what I experience is my PC. They are all one "thing" and that thing is growing. The PC isn't dead at all - it died and became a powerful heavenly being - an angel willing to serve my every need. As nostalgic as many of us might be for all the things the PC was, we ought to be incredibly excited about what the PC really is and what it will become.
The PC - the Personal Computer never was a thing at all. It was never just one place. It was all places and all things at once. It was and is the the source. The PC is all places and all things where all knowledge may be found and created and shared. In this new universal PC space, gamers and enthusiasts do matter - more than ever and it is time someone told them that every day. It is time Microsoft shared what it knew and what it knows about the new personal computer.
It is time for Microsoft to rejoin the living; forget the past; leave the case in the dust-bin of history, and show us the way forward, as your chairman once offered to do.
Games for Windows. Microsoft, make that real and kill the lines and space between the PC and Xbox and never create them again. Do the same for the marketplace and Zune - make it all "The PC"