The Death of Wintel, Rebirth of Cross-Platform Computing

Rob Enderle

I was on a panel at Intel's sales conference this week where Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas was named director of creative innovation, with analysts from Forrester and IDC. We all agreed about a number of things having to do with the world in 2015. But one of the things we agree about today is that Wintel, the near-mythical partnership between Intel and Microsoft, died some time ago and we still haven't seen the changes that will result. One of the big changes that will result is something we once called "cross-platform computing" or the concept of users who shift between PCs, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and other "smart" devices and expect to pick up right where they left off. This was the future that the Wintel alliance was preventing and with its collapse many of us now expect a much more diverse, appliance-like future.


Let's explore that.


Wintel the Problem


Big alliances are great, but the problem is that they also tend to be rather static, particularly if the parties are balanced. If you have two entities tied together and neither has enough power to lead, the alliance will eventually reach a place where each is pulling in opposite directions and both have stopped moving. The PC is an example of that problem and it changed very little other than gaining performance over the last several decades. Other examples are the Windows Tablet and Windows Media Center (both of which preceded efforts like the iPad and smart TV) where both were so tied to the PC that they were avoided by customers.


That is why smart TVs, iPads and smartphones largely came up without any Intel or Microsoft content. Both were pulling so hard on each other that the partnership became an impediment, and companies like Apple were able to break out better than the PC OEMs tied to the partnership.


With Intel moving to operating systems and Microsoft moving to ARM, Wintel is officially dead and now both companies are free to explore their wild sides.


The Revised Future


The future that we are starting to see is being created without either of these big players, but over the next several years this will change a lot as both ramp up to go after new opportunities without the other.


The market is now moving to address a largely unmet need and that is the need for device flexibility. The company or companies that figure out how to meet this need first will win and those that do not will likely be in the history books along with other firms that didn't make the cut during the last several technology swings.


The perfect example of an application that today showcases this future is Netflix streaming. With Netflix streaming you can watch movies on multiple devices-DVD players, smart TVs, PCs, tablets, smartphones and, eventually, cars-and easily move between each one to pick up where you left off. Think of this same concept applied to productivity tools, games and a variety of applications. If the device you are using isn't capable enough you simply move to one that is and pick up right where you left off. If you start writing a paper at your desk but need to take a cab to the airport, you can finish it on your smartphone or tablet en route. If there is a sports program you are watching and you have to go pick up the kids, you can listen to it as you drive and watch it again while you are waiting for your kids to come out to the car without missing a beat or a play or changing announcers. (Granted, in that last scenario I'm hoping folks don't do this while driving, but you know some will and will likely become fixtures in someone else's trunk.)


Wrapping Up: 2020


While the future will bring a proliferation of products and favor vendors that can bring to market interoperating families of products, it will also set the foundation for consolidation that will force the next generation of vendors to look at the resulting mess and develop devices that will cut down on the number of devices you'll have to carry.


That will require technologies we haven't yet seen and the imaginations of folks who may not even be in high school yet to think outside of the box and create the next consolidated personal computer. Because folks really don't want to carry three or more devices, and just as smartphones consolidated MP3 players, MIDs, personal media centers, PDAs and cell phones into a single device, there will be a future device that will do the same here. It might even look like that old Gene Roddenberry Global Communicator I revisit every few years.


Over the next 10 years, companies that can't think across boundaries will likely be displaced by those that can, and much like it was with buggies and cars, those that don't grasp that the market is moving to a vastly richer product set will probably become obsolete or certainly much smaller. A line from the movie "The Terminator" comes to mind: "The future has not yet been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves." The fate, success or termination of a lot of companies is currently being written and the one that invents the future will be the winner.

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