One weird trick that could save the PC

PC sales are in freefall. Everyone knows it. The smart companies are trying to get ahead of it. Mobile devices and the cloud are the future.

But there might be one weird trick that could rescue the PC: Hook everyone on one, really great operating system for 12 years. And then tell them you're pulling the plug.

Surprisingly, the imminent end of support for Windows XP is having a salutary effect on PC sales — at least in mature markets like the United States and Europe — as people decide it's better to buy new hardware that comes with the latest version of Windows rather than install the new software on their aging machines.

The trend is particularly pronounced among business customers, according to analysts at Citi. In a research note, Citi reports that year-over-year growth in PC demand grew more than 10 percent in the fourth quarter, compared to just 5 percent year-over-year growth in the quarter before that.

"This was partly attributed to corporate customers upgrading their hardware (along with an OS upgrade) ahead of the Win XP expiration in April this year," according to the note.

The fact that nobody felt the need to upgrade until now reflects a grim reality for PC makers: For years, their products have just been good enough, more or less.

As even more computing moves away from desktops and laptops, the end of the PC era still seems inevitable. But for a last gasp, this one's not bad.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecommunications and the Internet. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.

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Hayley Tsukayama · March 28, 2014

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