Windows XP's US farewell tour to last most of '14

XP upgrades could give PC sales a shot in the arm into Q3; but unless consumers resume buying, PC industry is looking at another tough year

Last-minute moves by businesses to scrap Windows XP may have offset the continued free fall in consumer spending, but that gift from XP won't help the PC industry for long, an analyst said today.

And when U.S. companies finally finish ditching XP, consumers had better make up the difference if shipments aren't going to plummet again this year.

"In Japan, the XP to Windows 7 migration started earlier, and is essentially over, or almost over," said Rajani Singh, an analyst with IDC. "In the U.S. we see something else. The momentum wasn't as robust in Q1, hence [migrations] are continuing. In the U.S. that will affect shipments in Q2 and in parts of Q3 as well."

IDC's estimate for the March quarter pegged worldwide PC shipments at 73.4 million, down 4.4% compared to the year before, a depressing number for OEMs but not as dark as what IDC had predicted earlier, when it had forecast the first-quarter contraction at 5.3%. In the U.S., the decline was less than 1%.

The better-than-expected results, IDC contended, were due to commercial refreshes and the panicked push to ditch Windows XP.

But as those refreshes end later this year, PC shipments to U.S. business will slow, significantly reducing the double-digit growth in that part of the market. If consumers don't take up the slack, the U.S. market is staring at another year of shrinking sales. Currently, said Singh, consumer PC shipments are down double digits from the same period the year prior.

Yet Singh was confident that consumers will re-enter the PC market. "Consumer shipments have been down quarter after quarter after quarter," she said today. "But at come point that has to turn around. And I think that point is coming."

Singh pinpointed the Oct.-Dec. quarter as when consumers would pitch in and buy new hardware in numbers.

That hardware may not be a different mix than in the past, she cautioned, and may include large numbers of Chromebooks -- the low-priced notebooks powered by Google's Chrome OS -- as well as what IDC calls "ultraslims," the very thinnest notebooks that often demand premium prices, and 2-in-1 convertibles that try to straddle both tablet and laptop fences.

"Commercial will get slightly worse later in the year, while consumer will get slightly better," Singh maintained. "That will result in some kind of flat performance for the year and a stable market in the U.S."

Worldwide, IDC still predicts that PC shipments will contract by about 6%, following an industry record decline of 9% in 2013. The researcher's latest forecast tapped global PC shipments at about 295 million for the year, a number it expects to remain flat through 2018.

For the U.S., IDC believes that PC shipments will be down less than 2% for the year, about half the decline of 2013.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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