CES's biggest fallout --- Say good-bye to Wintel

The biggest news coming out of CES wasn't the plethora of tablets or other gadgets. Instead, it was a clear sign that the age of Wintel dominance will soon be behind us.

The Microsoft-Intel Wintel alliance has dominated computing for a generation, as Windows running on Intel chips developed a near worldwide monopoly on operating systems. Now, though, it's time to say good-bye to all that.

The big product news at the show was primarily about tablets and smartphones, notably those running Android. Probably the most anticipated products were Android 3.0 tablets, especially the Motorola Xoom.

That brought into focus what has become increasingly clear over the last year: The most exciting innovations today are in smartphones and tablets, not PCs. And as people use their smartphones more and more, they're using operating systems other than Windows, especially Android and iOS.

That's just one reason why the Wintel dominance is fading. The second is Microsoft's announcement that Windows will eventually run on ARM chips. Don't expect PCs based on ARM chips to be available any time soon, or possibly at all. Windows will run on ARM chips on tablets.

As I've said before, I don't believe Windows is the right operating system for tablets, but for better or worse, Microsoft has decided that's what it will do.

So the Wintel dominance is being hit from two sides --- on one, alternate operating systems to Windows, notably Android and iOS, and on the other, Windows running on non-Intel chips.

Microsoft and Intel pretend that nothing is amiss. Robert Cringely quotes an Intel spokesman saying, for example:

"The Intel and Microsoft relationship remains strong. As more devices and machines go online, it makes sense for Microsoft to expand its offerings, just as Intel has with MeeGo, our Atom chips and work with Google on Chrome optimization and other areas."

Behind the scenes, though, you can expect there to be sniping and grousing between the two companies. That's what happens when empires end, and this one is coming to a close.

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