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Change is coming

The market is set to shift as Microsoft embraces ARM based devices.

Microsoft's announcement at last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that the next version of Windows will support ARM based SoCs is significant – and not just because it's the first time the software giant has embraced ARM based computing.

What it shows is the Wintel – Windows and Intel – stranglehold on the computing industry could well be about to be broken. It's a dominance which has lasted for a couple of decades and the partnership hasn't been dethroned and not for want of trying.

Intel has maintained its leadership position in the desktop pc processor market despite attempts from a range of companies. Some of the leading names in the electronics industry have tried to get a slice of the pc market and failed; companies like National Semiconductor, with its acquisition of x86 processor manufacturer Cyrix. Only AMD remains a contender.

Similarly, Microsoft has built its dominant position by tying itself to the Intel platform; ever since the halcyon days of MS-DOS. Other operating systems are available, but none has had anything approaching broad acceptance.
But one question that has to be asked is whether Microsoft has extended support to ARM based devices because it can – or because it has to? The move to tablet based computing was evident at CES and many observers have been suggesting that ARM – not Intel – will be the processor of choice in these devices. If that is the case, then Microsoft had no choice.
The rise of the tablet is also envisaged as seeing the decline of the laptop/notebook computer. While demand for desktop pcs will more than likely continue unabated, the laptop market is significant and means a lot of business for Intel.

ARM cofounder Hermann Hauser went on record at the end of last year in claiming that Intel has the wrong business model for the future and that no company has dominated successive 'waves of computing'. Intel has countered by claiming there is room in the market for everyone.

While the crystal ball remains cloudy for the moment, it may well be that we are seeing the early stages of a significant market shift.

Graham Pitcher

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