Wintel World

Wintel was the word used to describe the happy co-existence of Intel microprocessors and the Windows operating system. With an 'Intel Inside' the PC became the standard computer for a generation with over 90% of the market for both processor and desktop. The x86 series, based on the original 8086 Intel processor, has defined personal and corporate computing. On the road to 64 bit computing AMD created a new architecture but Intel have pretty much followed the trend.

Most servers in the Enterprise are now Intel 64 processors running a Windows server operating system.

Intel chips were somewhat power hungry beasts. Mostly they worked best when a PC had a mains power supply. Laptops and notebook PCs had notoriously poor battery life and struggled to work a whole day on one battery charge. However this mostly didn't matter because the Windows PC was king for 20 plus years.

Meanwhile in Cambridge during the late 1980s the Acorn Risc Machine was born. A powerful processor using less instructions and less power. ARM processor designs were licensed and became the standard for the smartphone and then the tablet. Intel processors were nowhere to be seen. The mobile world became the ARM processor world. Since Windows ran on x86 and x64 processors Windows was outside this new reality.

The result was that although Intel and Microsoft remained big in the server world the new mobile world was open to the new ideas from both Apple and Google. With no Intel processor to provide superb battery life the team at Microsoft came up with Windows RT (Windows RunTime). It was something that looked like Windows 8 but ran on an ARM processor. It could not run traditional Windows applications with the exception of Office but had to rely on the new generation of touch friendly 'metro' apps.

The problem for Windows RT is that it wasn't really Windows. It was something else. With few native applications and not very good performance it was really a version 1 device but priced at the cost of a traditional laptop with real Windows. It was up against premium devices such as the iPad and really cheap Android tablets from China. In short it was competing in a whole different market place.

Microsoft manufactured too many and they cost too much. The result is that Windows RT hasn't sold and they have written down $900 million of inventory this week in their annual results.

From a consumer perspective the mobile world is not the Wintel World. Arguably Microsoft is neither a cheap throw away tablet competing with Android or a premium product competing with Apple. Personal computing is becoming more personal. Devices are literally things that people expect to carry easily with battery life that gives a whole day of use. Microsoft can still sell a productivity device but they have to get to the point where there are enough applications that make it worthwhile and where the performance is what people expect on a laptop.

The PC market isn't going to collapse. There are more than a billion people using a PC and Windows on some version of the x86 architecture. There is time for Microsoft to get it right. If they want to create a new personal computing experience based on ARM chips they have to make it a product that is genuinely productive, has useful software and has sensible price/performance point that has some benefit for consumers. Microsoft also have to recognise that they are the new kid on the block in this market and they are a minority player in the tablet area. A touch of humility might be required.

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT against the IPAD.



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