Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux ever was

Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux ever was

Summary: Microsoft is embarking on what I believe to be its biggest challenge yet ... the end of the road for the x86 architecture.

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Microsoft has dominated the PC desktop and notebook markets for over two decades. Competitors have come, and competitors have gone and Microsoft is still on top. But the winds of change are approaching, and Microsoft is embarking on what I believe to be its biggest challenge yet ... the end of the road for the x86 architecture.

Microsoft stitched up the PC market tight. It was in the right place at the right time and managed to get to a position of dominance that has lasted over 20 years. It's been a good run. But Microsoft's success was based on the PC, and we've now entered what is most definitely a 'post-PC' era. What is 'post-PC'? If the PC era was symbolized by big beige desktops and knee-breaking notebooks, 'post-PC' is the exact opposite. Small, lightweight, low-power, more personal devices. Think smartphones. Think tablets. But these are just the beginning. Devices such at the Google Chromebook will bridge that gap between the traditional PC-style devices that we all know and love, and the 'post-PC' device.

One surefire indicator that we are now in a post PC era is what buyers look for in a device. Those old metrics such as GHz and GB (or even for some, the physical size of the system) have given way to new metrics such as weight and battery life. 'Post-PC' has in many ways made the personal computer even more personal.

And Microsoft is positioning itself ready for the 'post-PC' era. It's seeing the 30-year-old reign of the x86 'Wintel' architecture is coming to a close and it is preparing for this. One such step is in making Windows 8 run on the ARM architecture. It's not the first time that Microsoft has ported its operating system to run on different platforms (remember MIPS, PowerPC and DEC Alpha). Microsoft has always had an eye on the future.

But this shift to 'post-PC' is dangerous for Microsoft. It's dangerous because it's a big transition. Windows is very much a PC product, and much of what makes Windows what it is simply won't carry forward to 'post-PC' devices. Let me offer up two examples.

First, legacy. One of the things that keeps people using Windows is excellent legacy support. Windows offers unprecedented support for old hardware and software. It's one of the things that Microsoft is good at doing. This comes at the cost of bloat and bigger install images, but increases in disk capacities and processing power have offset that. With the move to ARM, there is no such thing as legacy. The word will not apply. The slate will be wiped clean and it will be a fresh start.

Now that's not such a bad thing in many ways. Look at how Apple wiped the slate clean with iOS. It was a completely new platform, and people loved it. But it worked because Apple didn't call it Mac OS, but instead called it iPhone OS (the iOS name came later). There was no expectation of legacy support because it was clearly a completely new product. But Microsoft is still choosing to call its ARM OS offering 'Windows' and I believe that doing generates a certain level of user expectation that the platform won't be able to deliver. It's Windows, but mostly in name only.

Another problem is that Windows is primarily a desktop operating system. It's on the desktop that the OS really shines. It also works pretty well on notebooks and not so well on devices that have a cramped screen space such as netbooks. On tablets, it's a disaster. To help alleviate this Microsoft has developed a completely new user interface called Metro UI with the idea of making a one-size-fits-all interface that will work on a myriad of screen sizes and resolutions, from multi-monitor desktops to tablets. Now that's a gamble on all fronts. First Microsoft is forcing those traditional Windows users (folks running desktops) to adopt a totally new way of working. There are millions of Windows users out there who are used to the existing Windows paradigm, and these people are going to have to change the way they work because Microsoft wants to offer the same experience across a range of screen sizes.

Now that's a massive gamble. I know a lot of people who have considered making a switch from Windows, but one of the things that keeps them on the platform is that they know and are comfortable with the way the operation system works. Well, like it or not, these people are going to have to learn something new, and if they're having to learn something new, why stick with Windows?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for progress, and I think that it is time that x86 platform start to fade away. But it feels to me that rather than making a controlled shift to a new platform, Microsoft is leaping into the unknown and taking every Windows user with them on some mystery ride. I don't understand why Microsoft feels that integrating tablets and desktops under the same OS is needed at this stage. I could understand having an eye for integration down the line, but unification now seems like too much, too soon.

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Topics: Processors, Apple, Hardware, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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161 comments
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  • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

    You have "every" in the title - you mean "ever" (you're welcome)
    jeremychappell
    • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

      @jeremychappell Also in:

      "Microsoft stitched up the PC market tight. It was in the right placed at the right time and managed to get to a position of dominance that has lasted over 20 years."

      You mean:

      "Microsoft stitched up the PC market tight. It was in the right place at the right time and managed to get to a position of dominance that has lasted over 20 years."

      (still welcome)
      jeremychappell
      • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

        @jeremychappell
        Fixed. Thanks again. :-)
        David Grober
      • Same ol' "POST-PC" day dreaming again.

        70% of human interaction with the outside world is via eyes, which means that 24' inch screen of a desktop completely and utterly destroys that diminish 10' tablets or 4' smart phones when it comes to user experience any day/week/month/year/decade of the week/month/year/decade/ century, respectively. Unless you can take that visual edge away from desktops the "POST-PC" talking is day dreaming at best.
        LBiege
    • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

      @jeremychappell
      Fixed. Thanks!
      David Grober
    • Sounds too much like the "electric car" means the end......

      ....of the gasoline engine!
      Apple has never had to deal with a massive corporate installed base!
      It might happen, but over decades, not from Windows 8 to Windows 9!
      kd5auq
      • The post-pc era isn't coming, it's here.

        @kd5auq: things are moving a lot faster than you think. If you look at the chart entitled "Traditional + iPhone + iPad + Android" in the ASYMCO article entitled: "The Rise and Fall of Personal Computing", you'll see that we're long past the tipping point. Almost 50% of the computing devices that we use every day don't run Windows.

        The Post-PC era isn't coming. It's here.
        Falkirk
      • Is it 1996 again already?

        Back then, the PC was declared dead again. By 1998 we would all be using 'dumb terminals' and access information on servers over the internet. I'm using an Intel-based laptop right now. Apparently the PC wasn't so dead 25 years ago.

        And every year, the 'next big thing' is right around the corner. In 1983 Apples' Lisa and Macintosh would be the end of the Intel architecture and the IBM PC. Yep, in a year or so, we'd all be using Apples because they're so cool. Except we didn't. By 1999, Linux was 'the future of home computers', poised to send Microsoft into bankruptcy. Except it didn't. Recently, the 'dumb terminal' has returned for a second failure in the Chromebook. You're using a Chromebook, right? No?

        In the early '70s, GM was developing a rotary engine, which would be a paradigm change for the automotive industry. All cars would be rotary. Your car has a rotary, right? Not so much. Almost no one today even knows what a rotary engine is. Even most Mazdas have piston engines. Go figure.

        I am sure that someday, devices like the iPhone will become more than the hipster-dufus affectation or email device they are now. They will become useful and productive, and contribute to actual work, as opposed to checking Facebook or 'twit-ing'. But they won't replace a real computer that does real work, like the one I'm using now and the one you used to write this column. Not today, and not in the immediate future.
        pishaw
    • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

      @jeremychappell the point from Microsoft is when were they release windows 8 but recently he released developers preview: http://www.technologyfazer.com/how-to-install-microsoft-windows-8.html
      nomikhokher
  • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

    Your whole premise that the x86 architecture is going away is just plain wrong. So what is the point of this piece? A lot of drivel.
    mdg1019
    • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

      @mdg1019 I think it's shoving "Metro" apps at desktop users, it "feels" weird when you push "Start" (and why are we still calling it that, as it doesn't say "Start" on it anymore?) a you're dumped at the Metro Launcher, you launch something "legacy" and you're back in "Desktop". Sure, it works, but it's very jarring. There are operations that have to be done in Metro, and some that have to be done in Desktop. Now this might change, but right now, it's weird.<br><br>Personally, I don't yet like Metro. Yes, it's clever. Yes, it's different to anything Apple are doing. But right now, with a mouse, I don't like it. Would I feel differently with a Tablet? Probably. But as of now, I find it unhelpful from an organisational point of view (no, it isn't as bad as the "Start Menu" could get - if you did no housekeeping, which a lot of users don't do). It is more consistent than the old Start Menu (where when you were doing housekeeping it looked like a folder rather than a menu).<br><br>How would I redesign it? Well on a desktop I'd make it semi-transparent (just the launcher) and a strip at the bottom of the display - I'd remove the pointer and have the mouse move a focus ring, "click to launch". As you never lose sight of the desktop it would be less jarring, and navigation would be easier (especially on a trackpad). If you launched a "Metro App" then (and only then) would the desktop vanish. On a Tablet, just as it is.<br><br>I do wonder if keeping the "Windows" name is a good idea. It doesn't make much sense on pure "Metro" devices - there are no "windows" (small "w"). But I might not be the best person to ask on this. I wonder if "LiveTile" might not have been a better name, with the Desktop version being "Windows LiveTile", the WP7 being "LiveTile Call" and tablet being "LiveTile Pure". But what do I know?
      jeremychappell
      • Similar TO, but different FROM

        @jeremychappell

        You are also welcome ;-)
        D.T.Long
      • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

        @D.T.Long I think, as a Brit, I'm okay:

        http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/different-from-than-or-to

        But probably "different from" would have travelled better. ;-)
        jeremychappell
      • semi-transparet -> semi-transparent

        @jeremychappell

        You're welcome ;)
        bitcrazed
      • RE: semi-transparet -> semi-transparent

        @bitcrazed Nice catch! Thanks ;-)
        jeremychappell
      • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

        @jeremychappell The really old start menu from win95 on is terrific and I might give up Windows if I cannot have that - presently using Vista machines (which work fine, by the way). I hate the big open mess of the present Start system. sem
        bigsteve666
      • Start menu

        @bigsteve666<br>[i]I hate the big open mess of the present Start system.[/i]<br><br>Metro takes the start menu and apparently unloads it all over the desktop. How tidy. Another ribbon with your coffee, sir?<br><br>Win7 left a portion of older style SM functionality (assuming you're up to hammering it with a monkey wrench) but inexplicably dropped support for personalizing it. What's with the near kludge lockdown and laborious effort required to do what once was drag n drop simple! WTF were they thinking?<br><br>Oh wait -- hit 'Win Key' dummy, and start typing something *bulb* ... pffft
        klumper
      • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

        @jeremychappell ummm you don't have to use Windows 8 if you don't want to so no one is forcing anything on you or anyone else smart guy.
        adholt
      • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

        @jeremychappell - I agree with a lot of what you're saying, except, I do like metro, even with a mouse. But as you say, metro should only launch on desktop machines when requested rather than automatcally. You suggest not using "windows" in the name but then suggest "Windows Live Tile"- that still keeps "Windows" in the name. I do think that it should be somehow differentiated, perhaps "Windows Metro" instead of merely Window 8? Microsoft needs to keep "Windows" in the name or a lot of people will simply be confused about what they're buying, and confusion about a product, any product, is not a good thing. I know that my mother, for example, and several others still love their xp machines and will use them until the machines die, so they should have a comparable option that doesn't require the use of metro but still allows it when they finally purchase new computers. Microsoft "windows" is known worldwide, as attested by the more than one billion machines in use worldwide (and that number is actually low- I have friends in many parts of the world who use "windows 7" but pirated copies only). Yes, I intend for my next computer purchase to be a tablet running Win 8 because I have a cheap android tablet that was a gift and frankly, it has been relegated to little more than a photo album, so I want something that networks with my other windows machines and has all the computing power needed to run Office, among many other things. "Windows Phone 7" is a lame name, mainly because it doesn't set the new os apart from the old. "Microsoft Metro Phone" may have been a better name, but Microsoft has never before really needed to advertise the way that the marketing company called "Apple" has had to do. But they really need to do that now, before they allow other companies to shill inferior products to the detriment of Microsoft products. But, as you say, "What do I know?"
        xplorer1959
    • RE: Why 'post-PC' is a far bigger threat to Microsoft than Mac or Linux every was

      @mdg1019 the pre teens use smart phones and tablets rather than pcs almost exclusively. in 10-15 years they will be buyers. FOR Exmple, my 3 year old granddaughter would rather Skype on a phone or tablet than on a pc any time we call. she has her won leap pad already. Like hot wheels in the 80s, Today everyone buying a new car wants bigger rims because that is what they grew up seeing day in and day out.
      fierogt