The Death of WinTel

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Yoko Ono destroyed The Beatles. R.E.M. walked their separate ways as friends. All good things come to an end. It's just the circumstances that are often different.

Give me every detail, darling!
Right now, one of the most storied partnerships in tech history is looking very frosty. An army of attractive ARM (NAS: ARMH) chips are driving a wedge between Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) and Intel (NAS: INTC) . The famed WinTel alliance is turning into WinARM before our eyes.

This week, ARM partners Texas Instruments (NYS: TXN) and Qualcomm (NAS: QCOM) are playing Yoko Ono's part in the breakup drama. Tablets are making the rounds at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, running pre-release versions of Windows 8 on TI's latest ARM chips. No Intel Inside this time. A couple of show booths over, Qualcomm's brand-new Snapdragon refresh runs a very similar show.

Okay, so Mr. Softy is sleeping around with other hardware partners. Two can play that game.

Is this a soap opera?
The first Intel-powered smartphones will be available in a matter of months courtesy of Lenovo. Later on, a brand-new relationship with Motorola Mobility should bring a plethora of mobile Intel solutions to market, none of which will run any flavor of Microsoft's mobile operating systems. This is all Android, all the time. You'd expect no less from Motorola, as the company is in the midst of being swallowed up by Android godfather Google.

The melodrama gets even more emotional when you consider Lenovo's background. The Chinese computing giant got into mobile phones a couple of years before buying the fabled IBM PC division, but we Westerners surely think of the company as the descendant of Big Blue. Need I remind you of the IBM PC that started the whole home-computing craze three decades ago? Lenovo edging away from Microsoft and into the arms of Intel is like Peter Buck's ex-wife shacking up at Bill Berry's hay farm in Georgia.

Somebody cue the violins. Redmond's family is falling apart. Who can blame Microsoft for seeking new partners under these conditions?

Be still, my beating heart!
That said, Intel and Microsoft aren't likely to sever their ties entirely. Think of it as an open marriage.

Computer builders may start shipping ARM-powered PCs before the end of 2012, but their Intel boxes will live on for years to come. Just consider how long Windows XP lived on as a viable -- even preferred -- operating system despite Microsoft's obvious desire to replace it with Vista or Windows 7. Consumers may be fickle creatures, but they also don't let go easily when they find a product they like.

WinTel is a proven solution. WinARM is not. ARM will be nothing more than Microsoft's little sweetheart on the side for a few years, and by the time a new pairing takes the market by storm, Intel should have already had a few cracks at its well-known move into mobile.

So don't cry for either Intel or Microsoft. The open relationship actually opens doors for other rising tech stars, including this recent convert from the graphics market. If the Beatles never broke up, Paul McCartney would never have started Wings, right?

At the time this article was published

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