The PC Life Cycle

By Roger L. Kay  |  Posted 2005-11-01 Print this article Print

Well, heres the rub: PCs have a life cycle of three to five years, averaging pretty close to four. Most of the time, individuals and companies are busy minding their own business and the upgrade cycles are all random and overlapping, giving demand a pretty stable and steady tone.
But late in the last century, the industry fooled everybody into thinking that their PCs would blow up at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000.
Businesses responded, just the way the industry hoped they would, by buying, from about the fourth quarter of 1998 up through New Years Eve 1999, spanking new equipment that would be "compliant." This wave of buying —made coherent by the specific date of the millennium—had the effect of synchronizing everyones purchasing, if only temporarily. The Millennium Upgrade led to the 2000 to 2001 trough. Everyone had new PCs and didnt feel it necessary to buy again for a few years. The recession didnt help the situation, stretching the cycle out perhaps longer than usual. However, enterprises and consumers alike were back again buying in 2003 to 2005 in what could be named the Post-Millennium Refresh. It was a purchasing wave somewhat less coherent than the preceding one, but it still had the characteristics of a wave. The next wave will be still more dispersed, as individuals and companies respond to their own imperatives, and time purchases slightly differently. Lets call this next swell the Longhorn wave for sentimental reasons, and lets say that the newly established periodicity is four years. Thus, we can expect the Longhorn wave to arrive in 2008. The history of Windows XP adoption shows that the consumer segment will cut over fairly quickly, since consumers buy what they find on the shelf, and OEMs will turn their consumer lines rapidly. However, corporate customers hesitate, waiting for the OS to stabilize and taking time to qualify their new images. If you estimate that Vistas Service Pack 2 wont arrive for 18 or so months following the 2006 release, its a fair bet that 2008 is when well see widespread corporate adoption. The company is trying to make the Windows Vista launch a big event by tying as much to it as possible in the form of new hardware partners, applications and services. But the release would have played much better for everyone if it had dropped at the peak of the wave in 2004, rather than floating in the middle of the trough in 2006. Roger L. Kay is founder and president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.


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