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Rebirth! Here’s why new life is coming to the PC market

PC sales have slumped, and the end is near, right? Not so fast.

Conventional wisdom says that most people who bought PCs from years past either don’t feel the need to upgrade or don’t want to spend the money to do so. Pundits note that common tasks like writing emails, social networking, watching videos, and listening to music don’t require powerful hardware — therefore the consistent decrease in shipments will continue. Or will they?

That could all change by the end of this year. Here’s why.

End of Windows XP support

The end of Windows XP support is forcing a notable amount of people to ditch their PCs and get new ones. This would explain why usage of the aged operating system has decreased significantly since then, according to Net Marketshare’s statistics. In March, Net Marketshare’s data indicates that XP held 27.7 percent of the desktop operating system market. That number had fallen to 23.9 percent by last month, a decrease of roughly 4 percent.

That may not sound like much, but considering that Windows XP was released in 2001, and the amount of PCs that have been built and sold since then, that’s a significant drop in the computing ocean. In that same span of time, Windows 8/8.1 usage has inched upward, and Windows 7 usage continues to hold firm, increasing from 48.8 percent in March to 51.2 percent in August.

Related: Windows XP end-of-support survival guide

One of the primary reasons for these shifts is simple: Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 continue to receive security updates from Microsoft, while Windows XP does not. With online data breaches and other Internet threats becoming more and more commonplace, the average computer user is more conscious of the importance of computer security than ever before.

IDC, a market research firm, essentially confirmed XP’s role in a potential revival, stating that “the stimulus from the end of support for Windows XP” has driven short-term gains in the PC world. As more and more people move from XP to Microsoft’s newer operating systems, we suspect this will provide a steady stream of new PC shipments running currently supported versions of Windows.

New, super-cheap laptops are about to hit the market

Most people want a great deal on, well, everything. This extends to computers as well. All you need to do is take a gander at Amazon’s list of best-selling notebooks, which is dominated by both Windows and Chrome OS systems priced between $250 and $500.

Google and PC OEMs have realized this and have combined their efforts to take a chunk out of the super-cheap laptop market by introducing a slew of Chromebooks priced right in this range. It’s worth noting that Chromebooks occupy roughly half the spots on Amazon’s top 20 best-selling notebooks as of this writing, though that’s been the case for months.

Related: Asus reveals its newest Windows 8.1 notebook — only $200

Microsoft and PC makers will attempt to catch up in this area by introducing a bunch of low-cost laptops between now and the end of the year. Some were unveiled at IFA 2014 this week, including the Asus EeeBook X205, a $200 Windows 8.1 notebook that slices storage and RAM to Chromebook-like levels. It supplements the lack of a larger hard drive with 500GB of free cloud storage, for two years anyway. That last item is absolutely patterned after Chromebooks; most of them include 100GB of Google Drive space for free for two years.

Also, the release of Windows 8.1 with Bing, a lower-cost version of Microsoft’s latest designed specifically for PC makers, lets these companies sell their systems for less than they would if they kept having to pay full prices for copies of Windows 8.1.

Hear that? It’s the holiday shopping season, and it’s coming fast

It may be 85 degrees and icky outside (in New York City, at least). But before you know it, you’ll have to start thinking about what to buy for all those holidays bunched up at the end of December; Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Festivus, and so on. One of things bound to come up often will be “new computer/laptop.”

And that’s when the aforementioned super-cheap Windows laptops will come in.

It’s a pretty simple equation. Ultra-low-cost laptops, plus the holiday shopping season, may equal an increased likelihood of more Windows laptop sales this fall and winter. Of course, they need to be good enough to handle basic tasks, and encased in solid builds that defy their bargain-basement price tags. It will be interesting to see whether these new notebooks can deliver adequate power and functionality at Chromebook-like rates.

The Windows 9 factor

Windows 8 and 8.1 remain unpopular, and that will probably never change. Those statistics from Net Marketshare that we referred to earlier also state that, combined, Windows 8 and 8.1 don’t even come close to the user base that Windows XP still boasts.

Windows 9 could fix that. Key word: could.

Windows 9 will likely include a revamped Start menu, but we doubt that will be enough to bring the masses back. It’s also rumored to include a version of Cortana, Microsoft’s smartphone-centric voice assistant. The Charms menu could get the boot, and Metro apps may run in Windowed mode in the classic desktop UI.

Related: Here is everything we know about Windows 9

Perhaps best of all is the notion of Windows XP, Vista, and 7 users being able to upgrade from those operating systems to Windows 9 for free. Windows 9 will probably have to do even more to inspire a huge wave of potential buyers to shell out for new systems and copies of the OS. But it could.

We may get a peek at Windows 9 later this month, or early in October, according to rumors. If a Windows 9 event takes place and impresses, that could go a long way towards sparking renewed interest in PCs, despite the fact that the OS is rumored to launch sometime in the Spring of 2015, after the holiday season.

The entire industry is holding its breath — and hoping.