Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

Summary: The Metro UI and the WinRT APIs will signal the end of the traditional Wintel platform and usher in a completely new generation of Personal Computers that will have little resemblance to their forebears.

TOPICS: Hardware, Microsoft

The article which I published last week, "Post-PC: Why Intel Can No Longer Live In Denial" which was an expansion of the Post-PC Great Debate kickoff between myself and Zack Whittaker apparently struck a sour chord with a lot of folks. 

I'm going to address those themes and tell you what comes next.

First, a few folks were under the impression that I have an inherent bias because I work for IBM, which competes with Intel-based server systems. Before I go any further with the main subject of this post, I'd like to state that this is most definitely not the case. In fact, most of the time, I really try to go out of my way not to write about IBM at all. IBM also has a corporate blogging policy that requires me to keep my nose clean.

But the IBM mentions are unavoidable when talking about big iron architectures. There just aren't many of them. So when I do mention IBM in an article (which is inevitably bound to happen) I write a disclaimer at the end of each blog post that my opinions are strictly my own and not IBM's.

I also have a separate disclosure page on ZDNet which states quite clearly that I'm employed by IBM, just so there are absolutely no ambiguities here.

To me, it's obvious that the x86 is now going to have to compete with Oracle's/Fujitsu's SPARC enterprise servers, as well as IBM's POWER enterprise servers and System z Mainframes for running Cloud workloads. The industry has heavily consolidated and now only Oracle/Fujitsu and IBM make "Big Iron" processors.

They are the only companies that can afford the R&D to do so. If I could list more vendors that make Big Iron to compete with Intel's high-end products I would.

Big Iron just don't exist outside of that small group of vendors, period.

On the personal computing front, I think ARM is the platform that will replace Wintel on PCs. ARM also happens to compete heavily with IBM in the embedded chip market. More on that later.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming and my theory that the x86 PC will be pushing up daisies in 10 years.

I'd like to direct you to the header graphic of this article, with the two big green and blue boxes that contain smaller green and blue boxes. This graphic comes straight from the Microsoft BUILD conference in Anaheim last week.

If you're not a software developer, this graphic (and the various versions that have been shown in Mary-Jo's article) might not make a whole lot of sense to you. But let me simplify it for the layperson so that the concepts are easier to understand.

Everything in the green is the "New" Windows stuff that will release with Windows 8, which includes programs and sub-systems which run under the new "Metro" user interface, or the Windows Runtime, also known as WinRT.

If you want a good look at Metro and WinRT up close, watch my Windows 8 Developer Preview Tour video.

Everything in the "Blue" on that diagram is the old-school Windows we are all currently using. This represents almost 20 years worth of legacy Microsoft technology that originated with Windows NT 3.1 from way back in 1992, namely the Win32 Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and also successive iterations of the  .NET Framework which were introduced in 2002.

I won't even get into 3rd-party programming environments such as Java and Adobe Flash/AIR, because it will get far too complicated.

Software developers use these APIs in order to write major desktop applications such as Office or even PC games like World of Warcraft, and they have over time been enhanced and grown to tens of thousands of API calls in total.

While both the "Green" side and the "Blue" side share common programming languages, such as C, C++, C#, Visual Basic, HTML and Javascript, the APIs which you use to write the applications to -- the frameworks, the function calls, all of the things which make up a complex software program such as Microsoft Word or Excel are completely different.

What this means is if you've written a complex application on the "Blue" side, you will need to completely re-write substantial portions of your application if you want to move to the "Green" side.

Microsoft has not yet said whether or not they will provide rapid porting tools from "Blue" to "Green", or even what their own internal time frame is for re-writing their own major desktop applications like Office are.

Presumably, this is a process that is expected to take several years.

What they have said, however, is that the big "Blue" box for all practical purposes will not exist on the ARM platform at some point in the future. There will only be "Green", aka WinRT.

Despite my long-time friend and colleague Mary-Jo Foley's claims to the contrary, there is no way, no how, that Microsoft is porting the entire "Blue" stack to the ARM architecture.

I could see porting small parts of it, perhaps, such as the Windows 7 shell environment, in order to maintain a consistent UI across the two architectures, and certain subsystems to support DirectX games, and providing a way for RemoteFX seamless RDP apps to run on a desktop on an ARM tablet, but not the whole thing.

There's just far too much legacy baggage involved.

Certainly, the most recent video demo of a prototype nVidia Kal-El based Windows 8 ARM tablet previewed on Joshua Topolsky's This is My Next blog does show the Windows desktop shell. But that doesn't mean the entire Win32 and .NET stack is going to be available to software developers natively on ARM.

The effort to port all of that over would be a Herculean task with very little payoff, and would defeat the purpose of bringing developers into the new WinRT "Green" environment in the first place.

The most logical way to provide legacy compatibility would be to provide seamless RDSH/RemoteFX client connectivity on ARM, with all of the key productivity apps hosted in Microsoft's Cloud (Office 365/Azure) or in private datacenters.

I've discussed this already in my article on Windows Server 8, which is positioned very strongly as a Cloud-enabled OS.

So if "Blue" doesn't exist on ARM tablets, ARM smartphones, ARM thin and smart clients, and Microsoft wants everyone to eventually move all their apps over to "Green", what exactly is the point of keeping x86 around on the desktop?

There's no justification for it whatsoever.

In my May 2011 article Project Blade Runner: The Personal Computer of 2019 I discussed a completely theoretical "PC" composed of next-generation parts, and talked about what the operating system on this theoretical personal computer could look like, based on current trends in virtualization and Cloud Computing.

Now that I've seen Microsoft's next-generation Windows desktop systems architecture, it's become very apparent that Metro fits quite well into the Post-PC vision that I described earlier. It would be entirely possible for a "PC" to be built entirely without Intel legacy architecture, based on the new "Green" foundation.

Within several years, the Wintel architecture on the desktop is going to cease to exist. Microsoft has not issued a timeframe for when this transition is going to occur, but I suspect it will happen within two consecutive versions of the OS. That's certainly within the scope of ten years or less.

Those who doubt that ARM will be capable of running powerful content creation apps will discount this notion completely. And certainly if you look at the platform today, it doesn't have the 64-bit architecture that is needed to pull off the rich media types of stuff you see on high-end workstations or even on gaming PCs.

I'm not going to sugar coat this. It will take several years for ARM to get 64-bit instructions and 64-bit memory with heavy core parallelism into mainstream chips to make them perform comparably to what exists in x86 desktop PCs today.

So initially, ARM will be suited best for Tablets and Thin Clients, where legacy Win32 and .NET apps can be accessed on VDI residing in the datacenter on Windows 8 Server using RDSH (RDP) and RemoteFX.

However, to quote Master Yoda, "There is another."

Microsoft already has a powerful hardware platform from which to draw on -- it's called the XBOX 360.

Wait, what? The XBOX 360 is a game console!

Well, not if you look at the basic guts and fundamental architecture of the machine. The XBOX 360 is in fact a PowerPC-based computer that has been tailored to run demanding games and runs a subset of the Win32 APIs.

The current version, the model S, includes up to a 320GB hard disk drive and 4GB of memory. The CPU is a tri-core custom chip called the Xenon, designed by IBM and manufactured by Globalfoundries.

There is certainly no reason why Microsoft could not take the WinRT "Green" layer, the Metro UI, a PowerPC port of Windows Kernel Services (perhaps using "Minwin") and throw it on top of a new 8-core, 16 hyperthread 45-nanometer Xenon chip with 8GB of RAM, a high-performance SSD like a MacBook Air, an improved GPU inside a small footprint casing and call this a Windows Metro Personal Computer.

Bundle this with the XBOX 360's existing developer environment for gaming, with a Windows App Store for native "Green" software, and you got yourself one hell of a product. In the future, once the chip platform reaches maturity, Microsoft could do the same with an ARM -- aka something along the lines of the "Blade Runner" that Scott and I have devised.

No Intel required. Why, it sounds almost... Mac-Like.

Crazy, I know. But certainly not outside the realm of possibility when you consider that when everything legacy is thrown in the garbage, the opportunity to re-design the Personal Computer as we know it and start completely fresh is extremely compelling.

Will Microsoft's Metro and WinRT radically transform the "PC" as we understand it today? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Disclaimer: My Full-Time Employer is IBM. I write as a freelancer for ZDNet. The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

    The PC is far from dead!

    People, PC =/= Just the desktop. PC = Desktops, laptops, Slates, etc...
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • No

      @Cylon Centurion A tablet or a smartphone are not "PCs" in the traditional sense. They won't use the same OS and they will have radically different UIs, as evidenced by the iPad. Yes, all these things are "computers", but the need for a physical mouse, separate keyboard and monitor will disappear.
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead


        A tablet is not a traditional PC, but it is still a PC.

        Also, I have noticed that tablets are slowly transitioning to becoming miniature laptops, given that the second highest selling tablet is one with a dock.

        I wouldn't be surprised if Apple came up with something for the iPad soon to do the same.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        not everyone has tiny 9 your old sized fingers , many of us are normal sized and like real keyboards.
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        Working on a tablet for more than an hour at a stretch is mind-numblingly painful. I think a lot of people confuse teenagers banging away text messages on a smart-phone or tablet with real workers sitting down doing real work. I'm a programmer, and I can pull a 16 hour day in release crunch time on my desktop when needed. Ask me to do it with an on screen keyboard, small screen and finger gestures? Please.
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        Apple has stated that all of their devices will eventually use the same OS, and as for the mouse disappearing, I saw article on this and some other sites reviewing portable wireless keyboards, mouses i also saw a review for a stylus as well as docking stations w/keyboards and connections for a traditional USB mouse, the docking stations also had a connection for a larger monitor.

        I still use a desktop workstation for my schematic designs, database programming and coding, as do a lot of other people I know, I and other still use a PC to manage contacts and sync them with a smartphone or tablet PC.

        Technically a PC is any personal computing device., I can't figure out why the other devices are seen by some as being different when they do exactly the same things as a desktop or laptop PC, although I seem to recall that several years ago most like the same people were saying the desktop PC would die as well.

        It all depends on what an individual and or their organization needs, and need is what eventually drives the market. i actually prefer a laptop over a tablet.
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        @His_Shadow How exactly am I going to efficiently write stored procedures without a mouse and separate keyboard?
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        "PC" means "Personal Computer." Contrary to the presses' assumption that PC means "An Intel processor (or clone) running Windows Software," that's not what it means. After all, the Windows NT kernel (no matter what marketing calls it, it will always be NT to me) has been ported to run on the PowerPC, Alpha, and MIPS (never released commercially) processors in its history. I know Steve Jobs will hate this, but a Mac is a PC, too. My first PC had a Z-80 chip and 48K of RAM. So, no; the PC is not dead. The "WinTel" combination is fading, since AMD is making a very strong showing, mostly on a cost basis, against Intel, but that means that Windows and Intel will no longer have a completely monogamous relationship. They'll both be stepping out on each other. The NT kernel was designed to be processor-agnostic, and the embedded product known as Windows Compact is even more so. It was inevitable that Windows would move away from a single hardware platform, if only to compete on a level (technical) field as Linux and its kith and kin. Desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, tablets, and web pads may still run a Windows flavor, but the underlying hardware will be much more varied.
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        @His_Shadow PC = [i]P[/i]ersonal [i]C[/i]omputer. While you are correct in that a tablet or smartphone is not a "PC" in the traditional sense they are still considered to be personal computers.

        Getting back to the subject at hand the PC is not dead at all. If one uses the Personal Computer definition of a PC then it is simply evolving and Metro is one direction of that evolution. If one is referring to a PC as a Windows based computer then that also is not dead.
      • Not Until They Come Up with Something That Works Better

        @His_Shadow <br>"...the need for a physical mouse, separate keyboard and monitor will disappear."<br><br>That's not going to happen until they come up with something better than a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. Here's a hint: a touchscreen isn't it.<br><br>It's much more likely that people will start carrying about a mobile computing device that hooks up to a separate mouse, keyboard, and monitor when they want to use it on the desktop than it is that the mouse/keyboard interface will go away. A mouse and keyboard works a lot better than a touchscreen. That's been proven by history.<br><br>The advantage to a touchscreen is completely about consolidating the interface onto the device for mobility's sake. When you're at a desk, a touchscreen in lieu of a mouse and keyboard no longer makes any sense. At a desk a touchscreen is more fatiguing to use and not as precise.
      • If we're going to be that restrictive...


        If we're going to be restrictive in what's a PC, then I say Apple & Linux-using computers aren't "PCs" either. Why? Because they don't use an operating system derived (however anciently) from the MS-DOS operating system that IBM sold their PCs with back in the early 1980s. You know, the ones that actually were branded "PCs".

        And yes, that's a valid argument. Aside from the more recent "PC vs. Mac" ad campaigns that Apple ran, I grew up back in the early days of computers. Apple IIs & the later Macs were *not* considered "PCs"... PCs were IBM-built machines & the "IBM clones" that ran DOS (or later Windows).
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead


        I'd stick with "Wintel" as a designation, if by the "Intel" part you mean "CPUs based on the x86 architecture initiated by Intel". Mainly because I remember back when AMD didn't have to develop its own proprietary CPU slot for its motherboards -- first PC I ever bought for myself had a Socket 7 motherboard that came with a 300MHz AMD K6.
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        @His_Shadow That's the joke to me. Get an iPad, oh wait it needs a case! Wait I can't hold this all day . . . get a stand. Wait I can't put an sd card in it! Get a dongle. I can't type my report on this . . . get a keyboard. Now I need a mouse!

        The screen is too small get an adapter and a monitor!

        Oops! I made my iPad into a PC!
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead


        then why are docks and wireless keboard accessories so successfull? The post PC era combines old and new in a coexisting platform. PC means Personal Computer. Right now PC is a buzz word for MS Windows OS computer.
        But any computer device that is personally yours is a PC by definition. Post PC is not just the form factor of computers eventualy evolving from desktops to more mobile platforms. Laptops have been out selling desktops for years already. i0S and Android is setting the tone for that mobile world. Though heavy support for legacy Windows apps will require virtual destop technology for some time. These apps require Keyboard an Mouse.
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        @His_Shadow You said, "the need for a physical mouse, separate keyboard and monitor will disappear. "

        That may be so, but only when electricity, plastic, fossil fuel, various metals, industrial manufacturing, and all other "modern" characteristics of civilization have departed due to some cataclysmic event which destroys life as we know it. So, you may be right.
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead


        Regardless how you want to call them. The tablets, smartphones, laptops are still PC's and maybe not in the same UI but still PC's as they share many of the similar functions. As of right now, I can garuntee you that many of the current comments you see here are typed on a "traditional" PC in your words.

        I own a smartphone, laptop, netbook, but they can never replace my desktop as they all rely or incapable of delivering the many uses or functions that the "traditional" PC offers. Yes the GUI is different, but so what? You can own a BMX bike, mountain bike, motorcycle but its still a "Bike."

        This "PC is now Dead" is just the media misleading the public as always just based off ignorance.

        Need something to write about, "Microsoft Metro proves how the PC is evolving." The GUI is just becoming more user-friendly as was before "LISA" interface arrived with Apple when everyone was using the "CMD interface."
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        @His_Shadow So, the iPad is not a personal computing device? Technically, I would have to disagree -- unless the term PC is used as a classification only, such as the difference between IBM compatible machines and Apple machines (PC's vs Apples -- but, technically, they are both PC's in the sense that they are both 'personal computers' and NOT workstation computers). The iPad has an operating system, runs programs and other tools found on a PC,plays games, entertains, provides the user with Internet access, it has a keypad (albeit on-screen) for typing and it uses a monitor so I would classify it as a PC (personal computer). Laptops don't neccessarily need a mouse but they are still PC's. An iPad uses personal computer-like hardware (Cpu, GPU, etc.) to operate.
        Saying that the iPad isn't a PC is like saying the iPhone isn't a telephone because it has more features and that it isn't physically connected to a traditional landline.
      • RE: Microsoft's Metro proves the PC is dead

        @His_Shadow I am replying to the article. (crap ui zdnet!) What utter nonsense! High powered knowledge workers, of a thousand and one varieties, will never, ever give up their mice, large multi-monitors, and keyboards. Not until the direct brain interface, and that is years and years away.

        This is the silliest darn article I have ever read!
      • Major Correction!

        @His_Shadow <br><br>I really dont care what you wish to call them, but a tablet, smartphone, note Book, laptop, desktop, server, pad, smart phone, game console, etc. are all PCs, since PC is the acronym for Personal Computer. Even Macs are rightfully PCs, its that IBM assumed the term PC, which was portraied as any IBM or IBM Compatible Machine using the same architecture as IBM, such that the operating systems would behave similarly, operating systems such as Windows, Linux and Unix, and any other lesser known OS system, by the public when the computer was first introduced. Mac had to separate themselves from the name, due to their software being incompatible with the PC architecture because it was designed for a different style of architecture. Yet non the less, it is still a computer to. As for Personal in PC, it just means that it belogs to you. So unless you nolonger will be able to own any dvice, PCs will always be there.
        • Also...

          As for the stated... "While both the Green side and the Blue side share common programming languages, such as C, C++, C#, Visual Basic, HTML and Javascript, the APIs which you use to write the applications to the frameworks, the function calls, all of the things which make up a complex software program such as Microsoft Word or Excel are completely different." No kidding... thats why their called Assembly Languages or Machine Languages such as Fortran and Vax, etc. The rudimentary languages which are one shoot off of being complete binary 1s and 0s. I congradulate you for figuring that out. But just because Microsoft has altered their software OS platform on that rudimentary level and has decided to rebuild up from there, does not mean the whole computer Univers has altered and the fundamentals of computers and computing has morphed into something new and completely different. The OS plat has changed for only one primary reason, which goes back to profits and the all might dollar, and that is to change the platform is to make new products to sell for profit, by killing the support for the old product, forcing the masses to update to the new.