Looking cynically at the fact that Windows 11 will be available as a free upgrade from October 5, the timing of the new operating system release coincides with the need for the PC industry to receive a booster jab.
The latest data from analyst Canalys shows that post-Covid demand for PCs in 2021 has been stable thanks to lockdown-enforced lifestyle changes becoming permanent.
After four consecutive quarters of stellar growth, Western Europe recorded more modest annual growth of 3% in Q2 2021, according to Canalys.
Traditionally, new versions of Windows have fueled PC refreshes. IT departments often try to align purchases of new PC hardware with the new OS. It leads to a bit of a morale boost for IT staff and a warm glow among end users lucky enough to receive the first batch of shiny new PCs that also include a brand new user interface. But the feel good factor doesn’t last. Corporate devices are born to be abused and a corporate laptop will never, ever be treated with the same care and attention as a device someone buys with their hard earned cash.
With Windows 11 being made available as a free update to Windows 10, there is less incentive for people to rush out and buy new hardware, especially if their existing PC is relatively new. While software compatibility cannot be 100% guaranteed, it is not in anyone’s interest to break existing Windows 10 applications. Microsoft wants developers to migrate their applications across to the new platform with the least disruption, to deliver native Windows 11 applications as quickly as possible.
The way Windows 11 is being distributed is not dissimilar to how Apple rolls out updates to MacOS. Generally speaking, the free OS update is separate to any hardware updates. A new PC isn’t needed to start getting the benefits of Windows 11. For instance, the ability to run Android apps extends what Microsoft started with the Your Phone Windows app, by making Windows a software hub for integrating devices and apps.
Microsoft has signaled a break from the past. The need to do a hardware refresh is separated from the OS update. And Windows 365, its Azure-hosted virtual desktop, shows just how far removed from hardware Microsoft can be.
Nevertheless, the continued progress to standardise docking stations around the USB C/Thunderbolt connector, does offer IT departments a way to get out of the lock-in imposed by laptop manufacturers’ proprietary docks. One reason to buy a new PC, perhaps?