Global PC market decline to begin in 1997, says report

The global PC market will go into dramatic decline next year, Java will drive a new centralised model for corporate computing and parallel hardware and thin clients will revolutionise information technology vendor positions.

The global PC market will go into dramatic decline next year, Java will drive a new centralised model for corporate computing and parallel hardware and thin clients will revolutionise information technology vendor positions. This prediction of a seismic shift in the market comes from the Bloor Research Group, based in Milton Keynes, in the UK. The new market model will harm both Microsoft and Intel, while lifting the fortunes of IBM and Sun, according to the report.

In the report, entitled "The Enterprise by Other Means: an Analysis of the Return to Centralised Computing and its Consequences", author Robin Bloor argues that the changes will rearrange the IT landscape, affecting all vendors of products and services as well as their customers. By the third quarter 1997, according to Bloor, the PC market will move into a steady, irreversible decline.

Meanwhile, corporate computing will evolve toward a centralised network computing model, many times more complex, powerful and flexible than old mainframes. PCs will be superseded by stripped-down, inexpensive thin clients with highly functional but very cheap browser front-ends, which will be linked to a few powerful, massively parallel processing servers, all running Web-enabled applications. These applications will be sold via the Internet, rather than by today's third-party dealers.

The main impetus for change is the substantially reduced costs delivered by the new model compared to PC computing. This could reduce the per-user cost of computing by up to a factor of five, says Bloor.

Bloor sees Java as the driving force for turning the World Wide Web into a vast network for client/server operation. "Because Java executes anywhere, for the first time software application development can take place separate from an operating system," according to the report. "This enables the Internet, changes the client/server paradigm and smashes the door open for the thin client."

This new market will weaken Microsoft's grip on the PC arena, and casts doubts over the company's ability to make its Windows NT operating systems scale up for large systems. Whereas Unix has a good track record in managing scalable systems in both MPP and SMP systems, Bloor says, Windows NT is untried. "The announcement of a clustered version of Windows NT may be a warning signal," according to the report. "Historically, the move to clustering has often been prompted by encounters with the 'glass ceiling'. Based upon preliminary architectural analysis, we have a number of concerns about its ability to manage shared resources efficiently."

Intel's future looks no better, according to the report, since the thin client does not need ever more powerful processors, and by using Java, can run on any brand of processor. All this plays into the hands of IBM.

"IBM is still the prime vendor for many large corporate customers and centralised solutions already form the bulk of IBM's revenue stream," according to the report. "The company will probably take advantage of enthusiasm for thin client hardware and massively parallel servers. It is also likely to experience a boost in sales of corporate software, particularly for middleware, the integration software essential to making big networks, centralized or not, work effectively."

The Bloor Research group can be reached at +44 (1908) 373-311.

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