The Post-PC Wintel: Striving To Remain Relevant

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Not many companies can say they've defined an era of computing, but Intel and Microsoft are among the few that have those bragging rights.

As early as the 1980s, Intel and Microsoft -- an alliance so deeply rooted and influential it became known as "Wintel" -- dominated the computing industry. For more than 20 years, PC makers almost unanimously turned to Microsoft's Windows software and Intel's CPUs to power their desktops and laptops. By 1998, Microsoft's Windows platform was so prevalent on Intel-powered PCs, the software giant was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of being a monopoly.

Even today, the Wintel duo still rules the PC market. Intel and Microsoft accounted for approximately 70 percent of the worldwide PC space as of August 2012, according to analyst firm Canalys. But as laptop and desktop sales continue to slide, some question whether that market will even remain relevant over the next decade. According to Gartner, worldwide PC shipments in the third quarter of 2012 were down 8.3 percent compared to the same quarter in 2011. Looking ahead, those sales don't look any rosier.

[Related: Intel's Mobile Play: Just Warming Up]

That drop, of course, is somewhat attributed to a sluggish global economy. But it's also largely because of the explosion of tablets and smartphones, their soaring popularity among consumers and trends such as the consumerization of IT, which are catapulting these ultra-mobile devices into the enterprise space.

While desktop and laptop sales decelerate, tablet and smartphone sales continue to skyrocket. Research firm IDC projected global smartphone shipments will grow 45.1 percent year-over-year in 2012, reaching 717.5 million units. IDC also upped its tablet sales forecast for 2012 from 117.1 million units to 122.3 million units, and expects that number to reach 282.7 million units by 2016.

Cognizant of this, Wintel is starting to dig up its PC roots and head to where the action is. Both Intel and Microsoft came to market this year with new smartphone- and tablet-specific technologies they hope can go toe-to-toe -- or at least hold their weight -- against mobile giants Apple and Google. But some analysts and solution providers question whether Wintel -- and particularly the Microsoft half of that duo -- has what it takes to compete.

At the same time, Wintel is far from the tight partnership it once was as the technology giants each try to stay relevant in a post-PC world. A less exclusive relationship was inevitable given the industry's push toward mobility, said Linley Gwennap, president and principal analyst at The Linley Group, a microprocessor-focused analyst firm. Microsoft and Intel will continue to work together, he said, but it's no longer feasible for them to solely rely on one another if they want to succeed in the smartphone and tablet space.

"I think it's a relationship where they have agreed to date other people. They are obviously still going to be partners and be working together, but, at the same time, that exclusivity is gone and it's just the reality of the world," Gwennap told CRN. "The whole 'Wintel' thing ... worked for a while in the PC market, but it's just not something that's well-suited to the current reality."


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