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Windows what? PC makers have bigger things on their minds

Remember those days when OSes were the be-all and end-all?

Canalys Forums With minds fixed on PC shortages and the next looming round of price hikes, there was nary a mention of Microsoft's freshly laid OS by the biggest vendors and resellers at this year's Canalys Forums EMEA 2021 gabfest.

Windows 11 was unleashed on the world this week to a mixed reaction, with internal improvement overshadowed by weighty system requirements. Yet in years gone by, a new OS was celebrated as a potential sales extravaganza.

At the conference, senior execs from the three biggest PC makers – Lenovo, HP and Dell – took to the virtual stage and not one of them talked about Windows 11. Their focus instead was logistics, product availability and the like.

"There is so much demand for PCs still," Canalys CEO Steve Brazier told The Reg, "that actually the market doesn't need any additional stimulus. And it will be difficult to measure the impact of Win 11 on the PC market, because sales are constrained by shortages."

The sector is still playing catch-up 18 months after the pandemic forced lockdowns across much of the West and the PC suddenly became the centre of everyone's universe. Global sales subsequently surged to highs in 2020 not seen in decade.

HP CEO Enrique Lores said in August that the company’s backlog was "close to one full quarter" of sales and Dell CFO Tom Sweet said it was facing "unprecedented demand that is way ahead of supply right now".

So is a new OS no longer the drive it once was? "I don't believe so no, I don't believe so," a Lenovo channel exec for EMEA told us.

Their Lenovo colleague quickly chipped in to say the "whole context is somewhat different at the moment".

They added: "Normally a new OS is required to give a boost in the stimulus … if you think back to the timing of some of the previous launches, that was an era when people said the PC was dead. And I think we're far from an era where the PC is dead. You could argue we don't need the stimulus right now, we have demand way, way outstripping supply."

According to IDC in August, PC shipments are estimated to grow 14.2 per cent in 2021 to 347 million units. This was lower than the 18 per cent forecast in May with supply not able to meet demand.

"The lengthening of the supply shortages combined with ongoing logistical issues are presenting the industry with some big challenges. However, we believe the vast majority of PC demand is non-perishable, especially from the business and education sectors," said Ryan Reith, program veep for IDC's Worldwide PC Trackers.

Canalys senior analyst Ishan Dutt pointed out at the virtual conference that normal refresh cycles will resume in the longer term with "low single digit" percentage rises predicted.

"However, the installed base has ballooned over the last 18 months, and the opportunity around upgrading PCs and attaching peripherals and services has become bigger than ever before."

Perhaps when normal play resumes talk will again turn to OSes, and no doubt corporate customers will decide to migrate to Windows 11 over the next few years. And maybe by the time Windows 12 lands, it'll be able to take centre stage and be required to do what its predecessors once did: help Microsoft make bank and give the PC industry a lift.

It just doesn't need one at the moment. ®

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