Revisiting Microsoft’s “Vista PC” concept

Windows Longhorn PCWhen Microsoft shipped the “Microsoft industrial design toolkit” to over 70 original equipment manufacturers last year before the launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft hoped to get rid of the “beige box” ideology and turn PCs into objects of desire. More than a year on, as charming John Hodgeman might be, the sad fact is that most OEM PCs today with a few premium exceptions are still bulky boxes with just as many stickers are wires connected.

It might probably take more than a year for an industry thriving around function over form to do the opposite, but Apple’s iPod and iMac demonstrates most people are even willing to sell body-parts to look good. Apart from the minority who likes to tinker with the hardware, there’s no reason why the PC can’t be more compact and integrated.

Carbon DesignToday I stumbled across Carbon Design Group’s portfolio, a Seattle-based industrial design company who’s worked on many Microsoft projects including the X360 controller, racing wheel, LifeCam, Laser Desktop 6000 and Windows Home Server. One other was the “Vista PC“. A set of 9 images provide a pretty good example of what Carbon and Microsoft envisioned for the “Vista-generation” of computers.

With the launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft embarked on a never-been-tried-before initiative that spanned the entire hardware industry and attempted to bring the hardware and software design and development closer together than ever before. The design strategy was communicated in an Industrial Design Toolkit, which contained all the design components and specifications to create tangible visual representations of the colors, materials, fonts, and form language in the Windows Vista operating system.

Microsoft engaged Carbon’s design and engineering team to create a flagship concept PC to inspire as well as validate Microsoft’s Industrial Design Toolkit. The Vista Concept PC emphasizes the dual nature of the PC as both a productivity tool and an entertainment device and became the purest embodiment of the Vista design language. The work is helping industry design the wave of next generation PC’s.



It’s hard not to say it reminds me of the new iMac and Mighty Mouse, but assuming these were done in 2006 it’s interesting to see the two converge. The hybrid remote-mouse is definitely a winner though. But I’m not too sure about the stainless typewriter keyboard.

45 insightful thoughts

  1. While it would be a partial improvement on what we have now, it still lacks in a lot of areas. The base is unattractive and the monitor doesn’t flow into the base. The keyboard is kind of sexy, but definately not for everyone. There are also some other issues with it visually, primarily around the monitor, but yes it would be about a million times better than what we have now and hopefully it would bring about some improvements industry wide if it did well.

  2. The mouse/remote combo is cool.

    The monitor is too industrial-looking and has a weird mount.

    But otherwise than that, I would definitely want something like that.

    Too bad big PC-makers continue to depend on selling low-end hardware to consumers. And getting rich off of that. It’s not a wonder why people want to switch to Macs – part of the fault in switching has to go to hardware performance and design.

  3. Not perfect, but an improvement over current PCs.

    And I, personally, rather like that keyboard.

  4. That mouse/Media center remote combination would have been a solid contender for a ‘Vista approved’ piece of hardware compared to the logitechs’ and even the other microsoft pieces. And it’s so brilliant! I hope MS and hardware partners do a better job with WindowsNext as I too was hoping a flux of interesting PCs to come post XP.

  5. “I don’t like how the Windows key logo is off center.”
    It’s like that on my current Microsoft made keyboard and on my Dell laptop as well.

  6. I really like the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. And as long as they are as functional as their uglier counterparts, I would consider buying them. Because form over function is just fine as long as we are talking about throw-away replaceable parts…

    But I’d never buy a computer whose main unit was made of non-standard parts and in a case that probably even the local computer shop can’t open. I don’t want to have to ship it back to the factory, full of my valuable data, simply because I want a bigger hard drive, faster CPU or more memory. And in case of failure, I want to take it somewhere local and wait for it.

    So until the computer industry makes the servicing of specialized units such as this as easy as the auto industry has, I’ll simply say “no thanks.”

    Why do you think I never bought (and never will buy) and iPod or a Zune? Simple, I can’t replace the battery at my local RadioShack.

  7. I don’t see anything that makes this design special to be honest, it looks like a mac, and behaves like a normal PC! so why again is this a concept design?! HP already made a device that looks like this (only all black), and of course it doesn’t have a mouse like this one, I can’t get you the model number because the HP website is down for the moment, but in the mean time, take a look on this UGLY i-mate phone, cuz it’s got alotta juice in it, at

    it’s the only english review on the web of the “ultimate 8150”.

    C y’all l8er!

  8. This reminds me of the Athens PC concept introduced a couple of years ago during the Longhorn Alpha era.

  9. Interestingly beautiful. The keyboard from a distance looks ugly. But the thing is we kinda have this hardware experience already with Vista technically through the iMac and Boot Camp. Intel said the Apple product design is something they always wanted to win. Now we have it with the all new thin Apple Pro Keyboard and Mighty Mouse, both available in wireless models and the Intel x86_x64 processors. It would be nice if the LCD is detachable. The thing is, on the PC side, meaning, the brands (HP, DELL) who would develop and market such a design see it as luxury and charge an unnecessary premium price compared to the iMac.

    Anyway, they need to upgrade to Vista RTM, 5112 expired months upon months ago. 😛

  10. Great article. I quite like the keyboard minus the off center windows key. The mouse itself is too much like the ‘mighty mouse’. Maybe that’s a little narrow minded, otherwise like the shiny black.

  11. I’ve been looking at those pictures for days….that’s the friggin’ keyboard behind the monitor! I was wondering what the heck that was. Okay.

  12. Oh please. Just more stuff that MS will fail to realize. I’m so bummed that Apple just consistently outdesigns and outdelivers them. When is MS gonna wake up??

  13. all i can say is just bring back the Athens PC already!!!

    it was an amazing Concept as far as um concerned and probably the only one well worth mentioning or talking about anymore, compared to “agora” or “hermes” or any older concepts microsoft/HP had!

    sadly i predict the Athens PC is sitting in some dank basement collecting mildew, with some unknown build of Longhorn on it….lol


  14. Absolutely stupid keyboard. Round buttons with character in center? What could be stupidest? Where to put secondary national characters (Cyrillic, for instance)?

  15. @BlackTiger: i think you would have a different keyboard for different regions. i don’t see cyrillic characters on my keyboard, and i didn’t see those characters on my old Apple keyboard. i guess following your logic, 85% of the keyboards on the market are “absolutely stupid”.

    i would totally buy that keyboard and mouse, if the mouse were a laser mouse with a 1000+ dpi (adjustable for headshots, of course).

    dj_cityboy ,i WISH it;s the build with the double decker taskbar

    I WANT ONE!!!!!!!

    why are the people @ microsoft so idiotic when it comes to concept pc’s

    also , for all those who say this looks like an iMac ,NO ,
    this design came before the iMac Was released so it is IMPOSIBLE!!!

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