Wintel World thrown into disarray as paradigms get shifted

After a few days here in Old Taipei it’s become absolutely clear that the traditional giants of PC computing – that’s Intel and Microsoft – are being left out in the cold.

Perhaps they should both engage Ms Angela Huang to help unfreeze the cold world that’s enveloping them.  Intel was frank enough to admit that it got it wrong about tablets and is a little late to the game. Up at the Nangang exhibition hall it’s showing off a reference design for a tablet PC with touch screen that’s as jerky as an iPad, a Xoom or a Samsung Galaxy is smooth.

An unnamed source at Nvidia commented that while it’s fair enough for Intel to enter the game with a reference tablet design, showing one that doesn’t really work is not something that it would do.  

And suddenly the world of CPUs is getting to be fun again. Intel must now be bitterly rueing the day that it decided to sell off its Xscale StrongARM business to Marvell. The chip giant, of course, still has ARM licences but isn’t going to use them. Instead it will press on and attempt to annihilate the British player by introducing faster and more power efficient processors.

Like Intel, Microsoft faces something of a dilemma. It has said it will make versions of Windows for ARM-based processors but my feeling is that is too little too late as well. Microsoft has so far spent unnumbered hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to get into the mobile market, but so far with little excess.  When you talk off the record to phone manufacturers and the telecomms folk generally, it’s obvious that the last thing they want is for their sector of the market to be dominated by Wintel, like the PC market was in the past.

We say in the past because the rules have changed and both Intel and Microsoft find themselves in a place where there is now real choice for both operating systems and for microprocessors.  AMD, once described by founder Jerry Sanders III as being one part of the holy trinity, now finds itself being marginalised as well.

PCs are not going to go away, that much is for sure. Everywhere here at Computex you see tablets, tablets and more tablets.  The Asian manufacturers are attempting to capitalise on what clearly is an important sector, largely due to Apple. There’s nothing new in Windows based tablets – Fujitsu was the trail blazer here in the late 20th Century. But Microsoft and to a lesser extent Intel’s attempt to push the sector as hard as they could resulted merely in the creation of a market that ended up being a niche.

While computer companies bang on endlessly about the need for innovation, only a few of them have shown they’ve got what it takes. It just isn’t good enough to copy ideas, you have to better them.

In the end, we’ll have a better, more vibrant and competitive industry because of the changes in the last year or too. Microsoft and Intel are not going to go away but we suspect they will be forced into coming up with fresh ideas. Microsoft has never been particularly good at that. It failed to understand that the internet was going to be a major reality until it happened and when it did realise, still couldn’t regain the pole position it craved.

To be fair to Intel, it has come up with some great ideas over the years, but because of its reliance on its dear partner, lacked the gumption to tell its dear partner Microsoft to stop creating bloatware and clogging the PC arteries. In fact, it suited Intel, Microsoft and other suppliers to keep the whole carousel turning – calling it by that infernal word “ecosystem” concealed the truth that the roundabout was a magic circle.

At last the industry, customers and everyone else has a real choice and the next two years means an interesting ride ahead for everyone.

Instead of being the holy trinity, Microsoft, Intel and AMD were locked into a deadly embrace – a menage a trois intended to lock everyone else out and to lock customers into a Wintel chastity garment.