Recently, I realized that the last time I upgraded any of my PCs was five years ago. At the time, I had a friend who had just purchased a DIY barebones kit, but he decided it was too much to build it out into his ultimate gaming rig. I bought it from him and turned it into a workstation for my wife and daughter.
I've been using a Windows XP machine that is about eight years old, a Mac Mini 1st gen Core Duo machine, and a HP 17" Centrino Core Duo laptop. Lately, I've noticed that even the Mac Mini is showing its age. I knew I was overdue for an upgrade when I told my wife I was thinking about buying a new machine, and she instantly agreed.
The interesting thing about this is that part of the reason for my delay in upgrading is because I've been buying less expensive devices that cover the majority of my needs. I've bought two netbooks and a handful of tablets that take care of almost everything. It isn't that I haven't been buying computers, I just haven't been buying traditional PCs.
Even at work, I've been dismissive of efforts to create interest for traditional PCs over the last several years. The highest profile example of PCs we've seen offered is Intel's Ultrabook concept.
Ultrabooks promise many of the benefits of mobile computing devices, including quick startup and long battery life, but I've regarded these devices as a compromise stuck between two worlds. Ultrabooks generally have smaller solid state drives and lower speed CPUs and cost as much or more than their traditional counterparts. On the other hand, they're not truly instant-on devices and their battery life isn't a match for the standby and run-time that mobile OS devices can deliver for far less money.
Yet, it seems like my current machine is always due for a refresh right around the time that a major change is anticipated in the industry. I've been putting off my upgrade because it seemed silly to buy a new traditional PC with Windows 8 right around the corner.
I've quietly been as pessimistic about the release of Windows 8 as anyone. I played with the developer preview and just wasn't impressed — even with the touch-screen display. It appears to be another hybrid concept that combines all the headaches and hassles of one platform with all those of another, while losing the best features of either. It's radically different than what people are used to, and based on my experience with Windows 7 Phones, I'm afraid that between driver and device issues, and a lack of software that leverages the "We-Don't-Call-It-Metro-Anymore" interface, it may just be a bolted-on front end that disrupts productivity in the traditional Windows interface.
Despite that, I recently came to the conclusion that mobile computing and cloud solutions have not broken Microsoft and Intel's lock-in for me as I once thought.
Mobile OS devices are not able to deliver my most demanding needs, but as the online browsing experience evolves, even some of those tasks are taking too long on my oldest PCs. If a Windows 8 upgrade is inevitable, it seems silly to purchase a machine now that doesn't have the necessary form and features to deliver an optimized Windows 8 experience.
Hardware manufacturers are arriving with the 1st generation of Windows 8 devices. It's no surprise that the best of these are Ultrabook convertibles that change from a traditional laptop into a tablet. I'll most likely replace one of my dated machines with an Ultrabook i5 or i7 tablet/laptop hybrid with touch-screen. Right now, the early contender is the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13.
Consumers have become adjusted to the idea of paying under $600 for the most expensive tablets on the market. Many observers have forecast that consumers will balk at price points starting around $800 for Ultrabook convertibles. Many of those are the same voices that rejected netbooks at any price because of performance, but performance is what these devices promise to offer — computing ability that even the most powerful mobile tablets simply can't match. The price isn't competing with Android or iOS tablets, but it is competitive with other Intel PCs and promises to deliver the mobile tablet experience as a bonus. From that perspective, the premium isn't that big of a bump.
If a hybrid Intel Ivybridge CPU-based PC can deliver the battery life, the startup time, and the touch-screen mobile applications that make Android and iOS attractive, while also being my primary workhorse PC, what place do mobile OS tablets have in my life or in the enterprise? Instead of hoping an ASUS Transformer Android tablet can replace my PC, what if a Lenovo Windows 8 Ultrabook can replace my Transformer?
I'm not exactly happy about this realization, but I don't see how I can deny it. If Windows 8 is executed properly, it could be very disruptive to the momentum of mobile device platforms. The possibility seems too large to ignore.
Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.