Good-bye Wintel monopoly, it's been nice to know you

For decades the so-called Wintel monopoly has ruled tech -- the alliance between Microsoft and Intel that sold countless millions of desktops, laptops, and notebooks. But Wintel already has less than a majority of the tech market when you include smartphones and tablets, and by 2016 Microsoft will only have 33% market share. So says a recent report, and I think it's on target.

A report from IHS iSuppli notes that when you take into account PCs, smartphones, and tablets:

"Microsoft's share of the operating system market for the three products combined is expected to slip to 33 percent in 2016, down from 44 percent in 2011.

"Meanwhile, Intel's share of microprocessors will fall to 29 percent, down from 41 percent. At the same time, the total size of the market will double from 2011 to 2016, almost entirely due to the strong growth of the smartphone and media tablet segments."

Craig Stice, senior principal analyst compute platforms at IHS, notes that

"While still an overwhelming influence in their respective markets, the tables have turned for Microsoft and Intel. With smartphones and tablets performing tasks previously exclusive to PCs, the computer market has expanded to include other platforms. As a result, Wintel finds itself in the unfamiliar position of dancing to someone else's tune, following standards that were set by other companies for form factors, user interfaces and even pricing."

That explains why Microsoft is willing to spend an unlimited amount of money to try and prop up the struggling Windows Phone smartphone operating system, and why it designed Windows 8 for tablets rather than PCs.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, it won't work. As Apple has shown in recent years, in a fast-changing tech world, innovative design wins. Microsoft succeeded during a time when consolidation, not innovation, was the key to success. Different computing standards competed, and Microsoft recognized that standardization was more important than innovation. Companies and individuals wanted technology and file formats that worked together easily. Elegant design and ease of use were of secondary importance. So Windows and Office thrived. So did Microsoft. And so did and Intel which produced most of the chips that powered PCs.

With the rise of mobile technology, innovation and design are what sells. That's where Apple shines, and where Microsoft falls short. Although Microsoft has done some excellent work designing Windows Phone software and Windows 8 for tablets, it's simply too little, too late. If Microsoft wants to become a leader again, it needs a leader with vision and a feel for product design, not for sales and bluster.

So say good-bye to the Wintel monopoly. The cartel will still be around for years to come, but only as a minor player.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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