Our guest on the latest GeekWire radio show and podcast was Jon Bach, the president of Puget Systems, the custom computer maker based in Auburn, Wash., south of Seattle.
In honor of the “Post-PC Era” — or “PC-Plus Era,” if you prefer — we spent a lot of time about the changes in the personal computer market as mobile devices and tablets replace some of the PC’s traditional functions. We also talked about the progress made by Microsoft’s Windows 7 so far, plus Windows 8.
If you missed the show, or just prefer text, continue reading for edited excerpts from the conversation.
In terms of the processing power, and the PCs people can buy for a reasonable price, what kinds of things have you seen — how has the industry changed over the past few years?
Jon Bach: We’ve seen a shift for sure. Back in 2007-2008, it wasn’t uncommon at all to be selling $3,000-$4,000 gaming PCs. These weren’t earning anyone money, these were for gaming alone. With the economic downturn here more recently, we’ve seen a lot more responsible spending on PCs, and that’s something I fully support. We want a PC that does what you need, and is not more than you need. So we’ve seen a shift to more $1,500-$2,000 PCs — much more reasonable, much more intelligently configured.
We talked earlier about all the changes in the industry with HP making their big decision — what impact is that going to have on you guys?
Bach: In the short term, it doesn’t have a lot of impact. The kind of PCs that we’re talking about in this overlap between personal computer and tablet and even smartphones, that’s on the more entry-level side of the PC business. Those are sub-$1,000 computers, and we don’t really deal with that too much. Now, I’d be in denial if I said that doesn’t affect us, and in the long term it absolutely does. The whole PC ecosystem is changing as time goes on.
How are you trying to adapt to this mobile ecosystem that’s just booming. Is your company positioning to play in that?
Bach: In the long term, I think we are. In the short term, we’re making high-performance gaming PCs and workstations that really aren’t that kind of segment. When was the last time someone sat down on an iPad and typed their thesis paper, let alone did video editing for a Hollywood blockbuster?
Do you own an iPad, or any kind of tablet?
Bach: Yeah, I have an Android tablet that I got just a few weeks ago, and it’s just amazing. I use it so much — anything from browsing the web, checking my email. I don’t do a lot of writing on it. It’s not convenient to write. Checking even security cameras back at the office — there’s so many things that it makes convenient.
Windows Vista was a debacle for Microsoft. How are you feeling about Windows 7 at this point?
Bach: It really is a night-and-day difference. They got a lot of things right with Windows 7 — they toned a lot of things back in Windows 7, so it runs more smoothly and more cleanly. We’ve had a lot of good, positive feedback.
So are you installing Windows 7 on most of the desktop computers you sell?
Bach: Yeah, I think it was last week, we finally had an internal discussion saying, do we need to drop XP now? Is it finally the time to drop XP? It was such a successful operating system. You have a lot of especially older software titles that didn’t make the jump to Vista and didn’t make the jump to Windows 7 and so you have backwards-compatibility problems. We see a lot with CNC machine controls, large machinery — a machine that will cut things out of metal — and heavy machinery with controllers that you have to go back to XP before you have support for.
What about Windows 8, Microsoft’s next operating system, which they’ve been previewing and they’re going to roll back the curtains on this in September at a conference down in Anaheim. From what I’ve seen it’s very similar to the interface for Windows Phone, which plays into a lot of the trends we’re seeing. What have you seen so far, and what do you think of it?
Bach: I haven’t seen a lot of Windows 8 in person yet but I’m really excited about what’s coming, and it’s really interesting, this trend. We’ve seen the same thing on the Apple side, with the new Lion update. A lot of things look more like the iPhone now and the iPad, and I do think that’s the way things are going to go.
One thing that interests me about Windows 8 is that it supports ARM as well as x86. For the tech background on that, x86 is more of what your traditional PC was built on. It’s Intel and AMD processors — what you have in your home desktops and laptops. And then you have ARM, and that’s more symbolic of your smartphones and your iPads and your tablets and those kinds of things. And to have Windows 8 support both is going to be really interesting in how it changes what people think of as a PC.
Listen below for the full show — including our weekly news roundup and Bach’s back-to-school PC buying tips. Also listen directly via this MP3 file. We’ll be back this weekend with another episode on GeekWire.com and 97.3 KIRO-FM, airing at 7 a.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.