Is Intel threatened by Microsoft’s Metro?

Divorces are never pretty and the very public WinTel breakup was certainly no exception.

Indeed, Microsoft has thrown off the shackles of x86 monogamy and embraced a future in which ARM-powered chips will play a major part in driving Redmond’s Windows business.

Gone are the days when Microsoft’s creeping feature syndrome and excessive Windows bloat forced consumers to constantly upgrade their PCs to avoid lag and drag.

Although Intel obviously profited from this very convenient state of affairs, it grew complacent and failed to foresee the tangible threat posed by low-power sipping RISC processors.

Energy guzzling x86 chips were all very fine and good in desktops, but proved to be a debilitating liability in the mobile sphere. 

To be sure, Intel has yet to claim any market share in the tablet and smartphone markets, and is currently struggling to defend its laptop/notebook business by bolstering a very vulnerable perimeter with Ultrabooks.

Unfortunately for Santa Clara, Microsoft has already decided it can’t wait for Intel to put its power hungry chips on a starvation diet. Yes, ARM-powered notebooks and desktops are on the horizon, and Microsoft wants a piece of the lucrative RISC pie.

But Microsoft understands what Intel has been slow to comprehend: the industry has entered a mobile-centric age. Call it what you will, post-PC or PC-plus, but the fact remains that the traditional desktop is fast approaching irrelevance for the average consumer – who is now more comfortable with a slick UI and a wide variety of cheap apps.

That is why Microsoft recently introduced the concept of its touch-enabled Metro, which Redmond rep Steve Sinofsky described as “beautiful, fast and fluid.”

“If you want to stay permanently immersed in [the] Metro world, you will never see the desktop – we won’t even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there! This is Windows re-imagined,” Sinfosky wrote in a recent blog post.

“If you don’t want to do any of those ‘PC’ things, then you don’t have to and you’re not paying for them in memory, battery life, or hardware requirements.”

Of course, Intel’s x86 chips will support both desktop and Metro modes for Windows 8. But it is abundantly clear ARM-powered devices (whether tablets or notebooks) will be more than capable of powering a smooth metro version of Windows 8.

Remember, the full, “classic” desktop version of Windows 8 is probably irrelevant to the average consumer, who will likely be perfectly content with Metro’s mobile-style app experience.

And therein lies the problem for Intel: what place does traditional (desktop) x86-oriented software have in our mobile-centric age? Will the fragmentation of the software ecosystem continue to solidify, with power-hungry apps like DreamWeaver and Photoshop unceremoniously relegated to an x86 dominated workplace?

All good questions to be sure, which Intel execs will strive to answer today in San Francisco. TG Daily is on site for Intel Software Day and will keep you posted.