Five Reasons The Intel-Microsoft Duopoly Is Dead


Intel's latest tilt with Microsoft -- the news that the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant won't be migrating its 80,000-strong global workforce to Windows Vista any time soon, if at all -- just confirms what we've known for some time. The two tech giants may share room and board on more PCs than any other two vendors, but the two-headed juggernaut known as "Wintel" is a thing of the past, at least as far as strategic synergy is concerned.

How'd we get here? Here are the top five recent battles between Intel and Microsoft that have led to what seems like the demise of high tech's most enduring duopoly:

1. Welcome to Boot Camp.

It's where soldiers train for war, and it's where the current Microsoft-Intel War got started as well. Apple's 2006 release of its Boot Camp software marked the realization of its transition to Intel microprocessors, a move announced on June 6, 2005. How did Redmond feel about its long-time ally Intel hooking up with Microsoft's Public Enemy No. 1, Steve Jobs? The past three years of growing strife between the software giant and the chip goliath are a pretty good indication.

2. The Vista Capable debacle.

When a slew of internal Microsoft e-mails were unsealed by the judge in the Vista Capable class-action lawsuit, the world was treated to some serious Microsoft finger-pointing at Intel over the chip maker's lack of mainstream PC hardware that could handle Vista's upscale graphics requirements. If money is the No. 1 issue at stake in this battle -- it always is -- then for our money, the future of graphics computing is the biggest bone of contention between Intel and Microsoft in their respective strategies for making the most money they can. And the Vista OS is where the longstanding synergy between the software sultan's operating systems and the chip king's processors sputters to a halt.

3. The birth of the MID.

Intel was a key player with Microsoft in the original Origami Project to develop Windows-based ultra-mobile personal computers, or UMPCs. But somewhere along the line, Intel turned its back on the UMPC agenda and instead began pushing what it called mobile Internet devices, or MIDs. Since MIDs don't care what operating system is driving them, we're guessing Redmond was none too chuffed by this development.

4. The marginalization of the client.

Microsoft's growing emphasis on services and cloud computing is turning the client-server paradigm on its head. Now that the cloud is handling the lion's share of the processing load, the desktop is taking on a far lesser role than it has in the Wintel past. Microsoft's efforts to build out massive, virtualized data center infrastructure to deliver services clearly show that it's looking toward a services future that doesn't rely as much on Intel.

5. OLPC-apalooza.

Used to be, Intel's Craig Barrett and Microsoft's Bill Gates were on the same page when it came to the One Laptop Per Child project. Intel's then-CEO Barrett called a 2005 prototype of the OLPC computer "a $100 gadget." In 2006, Microsoft's Gates said: "Geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text and you're not sitting there cranking the thing while you're trying to type." But when OLPC chief Nicholas Negroponte called current Intel CEO Paul Otellini and "demanded that Intel stop selling the Classmate," Intel's low-cost rival to the OLPC's XO notebook, what did Microsoft do? Well, they struck a deal with Negroponte to get Windows XP onto OLPC laptops. Somehow, we don't think that went over too well in Santa Clara.

Kevin McLaughlin and Steve Burke contributed to this analysis.