[Disclosure: All of the companies mentioned in this article are clients of the author.]
I was on a conference call with one of my clients, and the topic of what’s holding back the PC industry came up. Since these issues are industry-wide, I wanted to share my response with a larger audience.
There are three problems currently reducing market growth. While this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, fixing these three would not only increase growth, they would improve our satisfaction and excitement regarding this segment.
The three issues are the lack of a standard cross-vendor processor socket, the lack of a recognized way to measure security across vendors and the lack of an industry effort to drive advanced PC innovation.
Let’s take each in turn.
At one time, both Intel and AMD used a common socket, which meant that if one vendor had problems, an OEM could easily switch to the other vendor. The creation of AMD as a processor vendor was largely because Intel needed a peer so that their large customers wouldn’t be dependent on one vendor. This requirement wasn’t an Intel or AMD requirement, it was an industry requirement…one that should have remained in place for the health of the industry and to assure OEMs always had a way to meet demand.
This common socket was negotiated away in the 1990s without OEM influence or support, and it substantially weakened the industry by preventing the one critical thing they demanded when X86 first became a thing: a plug-compatible, two-vendor solution.
This common socket was a primary requirement during the birth of the PC industry. Those that set the requirement never agreed to its removal, and having it makes the entire industry healthier.
Currently HP leads the PC market in security and, typically, that would drive a bit of a security arms race. This arms race is critical given the threat level is increasing and the costs and penalties associated with a breach are reaching astronomical levels. But, without a common way to measure security, that competition hasn’t evolved – and the competing vendors honestly don’ts seem to believe they are dropping behind.
To preserve the industry and adequately protect buyers there really needs to be an industry-standard way to rank the various security efforts and assure they apply to not only commercial but to consumer lines. Some of the consumer products seem to be focused at executives and don’t have the same protections opening up an issue where a C-level executive may be more exposed than a rank and file employee. Typically, because we tend to focus on blame and not remediation when there’s a large breach, the OEM shares a significant level of exposure for this practice with IT.
Besides, some corporate buyers remove the better security that comes on their PCs, choosing to replace it with company standards that may actually increase their potential for breach. Blame for the breach could still flow to either the OEM or Microsoft, damaging their brands, but the cause would be this unfortunate practice. Without a common way to measure security, this exposure only shows up in private post-breach reviews, preventing adequate mitigation. Additionally, increased security is often in hardware, not software, and requires a hardware upgrade. A more modular approach should mitigate this exposure, but the effort likely won’t get funding unless a common benchmark points it out.
Finally, much like safety is more of a collaborative effort between carmakers, security likely should be collaborative as well, better mitigating the increased risk of breaches and successful attacks at a national scale. These national-level breaches could be devastating to the country, industry and OEM (not to mention the companies breached).
Centralized advanced PC innovation
There was a lot of innovation during the first two decades of the PC’s life. Part of that was a concerted effort by Intel to drive innovation, led by now-VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger. Microsoft also helped drive innovation up to the 2000s, but has since shifted their efforts largely to their Surface lines, which may be penny wise and pound foolish. Let’s face it: revenues for Microsoft would increase more if overall demand went up; not just demand for their Surface offerings. Efforts to create modular solutions, more interesting designs, more robust cases and even more aggressive use of water cooling have all but died out at an industry level. That’s held back industry innovation and created a higher risk associated with individual innovation with the OEMs.
Much like it once was central to the industry, vendors like AMD, Intel, Microsoft and NVIDIA should be driving innovation. To be fair, NVIDIA’s recent Ace workstation does do this. But if we want to grow the market, there needs to be less risk and more focus on applying breakthroughs to create ever more interesting products so that the industry can drive churn.
And churn now isn’t just to drive OEM revenue but to assure the hardware security components are updated on a timely basis, keeping us all a lot safer.
Get back to where you once belonged
These three things would make the PC segment more interesting, lucrative and safe. A common socket as a requirement, a common way to measure security and more centralized efforts to drive innovation could reverse the stagnation that has plagued the market in the last decade or so.
The PC market can and should be more lucrative, more interesting and safer than it is. And it’s in all of our best interests that it again evolves back to what it once was.
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