The PC Market Hasn't Been This Bad Since IBM Released Its First PC

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When Microsoft released Windows 8 last fall, a lot of people thought it could be the PC's savior, a hip-looking new thing that made those clunky IBM-compatibles cool again. In fact, it's quite the opposite. New research from IDC shows that PC sales just dropped by the greatest margin ever — or at least in the past two decades that the firm's been keeping records. In the first quarter of 2013, the number of PCs sold dropped by 13.9 percent, the fourth consecutive quarterly decline. This sort of drop would be bad for any industry, but for one as young as computers, it's historic. The Associated Press says that "this is clearly the worst shape that the PC market has been in since IBM Corp. released a desktop machine in 1981."

Who's to blame? All signs point to Windows 8. The new operating system was supposed to be a lifeline for Microsoft's once almost monopolistic grip on the sector, but it was immediately confusing to people who tried to use it soon after launch. Even usability experts were having a hard time with the thing. (Yes, there is such a thing as a "usability expert.") Poor sales followed poor reviews, and within a few weeks, Windows 8 was pretty much considered a flop. Meanwhile, Microsoft fired the mastermind behind it. IDC vice president Bob O'Donnell sounds almost sympathetic when he said in a statement, "At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market."

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Steve Jobs was right. The late Apple founder and visionary quite famously announced that we were living in a "post-PC era" a few years ago, as smartphones and tablets started to take over the market. Unfortunately for Apple, though, it's not iOS that's going to be taking over. Gartner, who measured the PC drop at a slightly less awful 11.2 percent, recently said that Google's Android will be the most popular operating system in the world on all platforms by 2017. The recent release of the Android-based Facebook Home portal — which is surprisingly addictive — certainly won't hurt that trajectory.

So love them or hate them, PCs are on their way out. Now would be a good time to pour one out for those PC companies that have already perished. (Lookin' at you General Magic, the company that once built a virtual personal assistant that worked through your very own 800-number.) Pretty soon, they'll have some company at that vaunted place beyond the blue screen.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.