The end of the PC, courtesy of Microsoft

Apple dealt a severe blow to the traditional PC with the iPad, but it looks as if Microsoft itself will finish the job

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I'm sure the ARM version of Office will have omissions that cause people to complain. But I have more faith that Microsoft has seen the emerging post-PC future and has decided not to cede it to Apple. In turn, it will do mostly the right thing when Windows 8 is released this fall (or whenever), and improve from there.

Still, there is one troubling sign that Microsoft could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory: ARM Office operates on a special x86-style desktop that will run only Office, no third-party apps allowed. I wonder if Microsoft is cheating by running Office via embedded hardware, not on Metro. If ARM Office isn't running in Metro, that suggests Metro can't do real apps, just widgets. In that case, ARM tablets will have appeal but end up as poor cousins to the highly capable iPad, for which many hard-core apps are available, from video editing to sound mixing, from office productivity to data visualization. But it's still a reasonable alternative for many PC users.

Intel's future is now fully up to it
Does the beginning of the end of the traditional PC (desktop and laptop) mean the end of Intel? Not necessarily. Certainly, if Microsoft delivers what Sinofsky has promised, Intel will not be able to depend on Windows to support its sales. Intel will have to compete on its own merits against the ARM ecosystem.

The slap in the face by Apple last year, and the polite but clear message from Microsoft a few months later, got Intel's attention. Since then, company officials have been talking up power efficiency and mobile fit. They've even invested in touch research.

As a sign that Intel still has some leaning to do, the chipmaker got ahead of itself in its Ultrabook effort, meant to encourage sales of Windows laptops, which have been losing ground to Apple's beloved MacBook Air, by emulating the Air. However, Intel let PC makers deliver Ultrabooks that looked like but didn't deliver like the Air -- in part because Intel hadn't completed its chip work. Users weren't fooled, and it's a real possibility that this effort has reconfirmed the superiority of the MacBook Air and iPad.

We're still a year away from the redesigned Core i5 chips, so Windows 8's expected release about six months from now puts Intel in an awkward position: The tablet-savvy ARM version of Windows 8 and Office 15 could be available before Intel's promised-to-be-equalizing technology. Businesses won't upgrade to Windows 8 for several years, so that core market wil remain open to persuasion. In the near term, individuals will be more tempted to switch to ARM-based devices, whether they're Windows 8 tablets or iPads. Alternatively, they could switch to MacBook Airs to get the "heavy" OS functionality in a better x86-based package.

History repeats itself -- sort of
It'll be ironic but appropriate to witness Microsoft deal the final blow to the PC as we've known it. As with the original PC, Apple showed the future, but Microsoft formalized it. I don't think Apple will suffer the same slide to niche status as seen with the original Mac -- Apple is not a naive company any more, and it's running an amazing engine.

I suspect it'll be a Microsoft-Apple duopoly for some time to come, and the naive company that will fade away as a platform provider is Google.

Stay tuned!

This article, "The end of the PC, courtesy of Microsoft," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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