Will Windows 8 Mark the End of the Post-PC Era?

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My Technologizer column over at this week was inspired by recent talk of the death—or at least the decline—of the PC, most recently inspired by HP’s decision to consider spinning off or selling its PC division. My take: The PC is actually in great shape, because smartphones and tablets have every right to be called PCs.

I realize this is a minority view. Some people use the term “PC” to refer only to computers that run Windows, a usage that always makes me wince, even though I’m occasionally guilty of employing it myself. (I do try to say “Windows PC.”) Others think a PC can run Linux, Apple’s OS X, or another non-Microsoftian operating system—but even these folks usually have something that looks like a traditional desktop or laptop in mind.

(MORE: The PC Isn’t Dying — It’s Just Evolving)

If nobody agrees about what a PC is, it’s tough to come to any conclusions about the state of the PC’s health, or whether we live in a post-PC era (Apple’s opinion) or a PC plus one (Microsoft’s view), or whether, as I think, we’re still very much in the PC era. But I’m hoping we might soon get some help from a source that certainly has some skin in the game: Microsoft.

The company is just now beginning to talk (and blog) about Windows 8, the next version of its operating system. We still don’t know that much about it. But we do know that it’s going to offer two user interfaces: one that looks pretty much like the familiar one that’s evolved over the past quarter century, and one that’s a variant of the simpler, touch-friendly “Metro” look and feel of the Windows Phone platform. It’s going to be part PC, part post-PC.

(VIDEO: Microsoft’s First Official ‘Windows 8’ Interface Demo)

At the moment, the distinction between a PC and a post-PC device such an iPad is sharp, at least if you’re a literal-minded type. But with Windows 8, it’s going to be possible to build machines that run Windows and look much like iPads. We don’t know yet whether they’ll be any good, but at least they’re going to change the status quo. Will they be PCs? Will they be post-PCs? Something else? How will research companies such as IDC and Gartner classify them?

I’m hoping that however they do, they’ll tend to end the PC/post-PC/PC plus debate. More thoughts soon: In a couple of weeks, Microsoft is holding its BUILD conference, where it should have much, much more to say about Windows 8.

MORE: Check Out These New Windows 8 Features and Screenshots