The imminent launch of Windows 8 is set to be as significant a date in the history of the PC as that of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, 30 long years ago. This is not least because it will post a significant marker in the ongoing debate as to what exactly a PC is, and what future the PC has, if any. (See also: Live: Microsoft LA press event - Windows 8 tablet launch.)
Wintel desktop or netbook, tablet, smartphone, laptop and all points in between – here at PC Advisor, we define a personal computer as all those devices and more. To limit the definition to just Windows boxes would be as absurd as the prediction unfairly attributed to former IBM executive Tom Watson that there would one day be ‘a world market for about five computers'.
The last device you use at night, and the first in the morning, is one that sits in your pocket all day. There is no more personal a computer than a smartphone.
Why Windows 8 matters
That the launch of Windows 8 matters is principally down to the descendents of the biggest rival to Sir Clive Sinclair's game-changing ‘speccy'. That rival PC was the BBC Micro, made by Acorn, antecedent of ARM: chip maker to the stars and a leading technological reason for the explosion in phones and tablets.
You could argue that without the Spectrum there would be no personal computer as we now know it. The games industry would certainly look a lot different. It is a fact that there'd be no iPad without ARM, and you can rest assured that Microsoft wouldn't be about to launch a touch-orientated Windows – complete with ARM version – without the staggering success of the iPad.
Windows 8 is the first flavour of Microsoft's platform designed equally for mobile devices as for X86 PCs. It represents a tacit admission from the Redmond giant that the Windows PC is, if not consigned to history, pushed toward the margins as part of a spectrum of devices that make up each individual's personal computing arsenal.
We can assume that Windows 8 for smartphone will follow at some stage, and then, for the first time, Windows users will be able to access the same interface, tools and apps across a variety of devices of their choosing, ranging in screen size from 3in to 50in and beyond. As Apple's OS X and iOS slowly merge, and Google stakes a claim for laptops via Chrome, and smaller kit through Android, the choice of platforms is becoming more varied at every level (I'm not discounting other flavours of Linux, or BlackBerry, whose PlayBook tablet is now a PC Advisor Best Buy).
What Steve Jobs chose to define as the “post-PC world”, Microsoft calls PC+.
The traditional Windows PC and laptop remain important, but are no longer the only games in town. Far from it. In fact, the PC+ era recognised by the changes Microsoft is making to Windows will see personal computers of all shapes and sizes, and is as exciting a period as that ushered in by the dear old Spectrum, 30 years ago.