Welcome to the Beginning of the End of the PC Era

Welcome to the Beginning of the End of the PC Era
Tech pundits have a bizarre habit of declaring products dead long before they’re actually goners. Me, I do my darndest to avoid the temptation to play premature coroner. I will say this, though: If the PC does end up mortally wounded someday, we may look back at early June of 2011 as the moment when its death warrant was signed.

In the past eight days, Microsoft and Apple have shown off upcoming versions of their respective operating systems. Their plans differ in fundamental respects, but both companies are looking past the PC era we’ve lived in for the past three decades. They’re building software for an age in which people do their computing and communicating on all kinds of gadgets — ones which are simpler, more portable, and more Internet-centric than PCs as we’ve known them for all these years.

First, the Microsoft news. At the Wall Street Journal’s D9 conference in Rancho Palo Verdes, California last week, Windows honcho Steven Sinofsky presided over the first public demo of Windows 7’s successor, which for now is going under the sensible code name of “Windows 8.”

The demo really showed only one aspect of Windows 8, but it was a lulu. Windows is getting its most dramatic makeover since at least Windows 95, with an all-new interface that looks a lot like Windows Phone 7 rather than anything that currently runs on a desktop PC or laptop. It’s clever, colorful, and designed to be navigated with fingers rather than a keyboard and mouse, showing plenty of iPhone/iPad influence without being a mere knockoff.

The old-school Windows interface isn’t gone; existing software will still run. But Microsoft is prepping for a transition similar to the migration from DOS to Windows that happened a couple of decades ago. It may take a while to complete, but it’s underway.

Coming to any definitive conclusions about Windows 8 based on last week’s demos would be like reviewing a movie based on one of those teaser trailers that comes out a year and a half before the film does.