The March Towards Choice in Consumer IT

For more than a decade the world of IT has chanted only Wintel for client IT:

  • they recommended that other OS from M$,
  • they put only that other OS on retail shelves,
  • they built only PCs shipping with that other OS, and
  • no one got fired for recommending that other OS while anyone who recommended GNU/Linux was said to be irrational.

In the last few years that has been changing but only around the edges. M$ and its partners were able to plug cracks in the dam by lowering monopolistic prices, offering sweet deals of training and promotion, outright buying the competition and selling the usual vapour ware, declaring the next product as newer than the last…

In the past year real change has developed around Android/Linux on ARM. None of Wintel’s levers have worked very well because M$ was not doing much for mobile users and ARM was obviously superior in size, weight, power consumption while performance was too good to ignore. At the same time small cheap computers were finally seen as attractive as mobile devices and thin clients.

Wintel has been out-flanked. ARM has for many years designed billions of embedded and controller systems on a chip (SoC). ARM is obviously credible having that presence in IT outside Wintel’s domain. It was natural for them to encroach on the cell-phone market which in a couple of years became the smart phone market, not a market for lunatics. The market for smart phones is entirely different from the traditional market for PCs. There is an abundance of competition both in hardware and software. Nokia and RIM have huge but declinging market share with their private software but ARMed designs with Android/Linux rapidly took 60% of units shipped.

M$’s share of smart phones is around 5% and declining. Intel’s share of smart phones is about 0%. Intel is scrambling to reduce power consumption but the design of x86 will result in them, after using all the most advanced tricks in their trade, only reaching parity with ARM in a few years. M$ is scrambling to release that other OS on ARMed CPUs in a year or two with no legacy apps, their major lock-in of users.

The current battle-ground is the tablet PC but, being mobile, ARM and Android/Linux are doing well. No one is being fired for choosing ARM+Android/Linux. Retailers are delivering them to consumers. Businesses are rapidly taking them up. No one really cares that they are not Wintel in large part. OEMs are making smart phones that dock and become a new computing platform capable of most of the tasks which any PC can do. This permits ARM+Android/Linux to invade the Wintel stronghold through the open gates of portability, low-power, tons of applications available on-line, simple/easy user interfaces and more than enough power and performance for most users. At the same time the defenders of Wintel cannot sally forth. The gates are one-way. Intel cannot compete yet on power consumption and M$ has no OS other than obsolete embedded LoseCE and Phoney “7”.

The world of IT is changing rapidly and the most important/fundamental change is that choice is becoming real in IT. Consumers are finding OEMs and retailers will sell them something other than Wintel. Businesses see the advantages of small cheap computers and will use them. The Wintel monopoly is as good as dead. Advantages of multiple sources, real competition in the market and IT based on price/performance rather than personal preferences of a few now dominate planning and acquisition in IT not only in mobile but also in stationary computing.

iSuppli’s projections for tablets are similarly damning for Wintel:
“From 2010 to 2015, a total of 888.7 million media tablets will be shipped, compared to just 88.8 million PC tablets. A total of 45.2 million PC tablets will be shipped in 2015, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 81.5 percent from 2.3 million units in 2010. In contrast, media tablets will reach 262.1 million units by 2015, rising at a 72.1 percent CAGR from 17.4 million units in 2010.

Media tablets, built on ARM microprocessors and utilizing mobile operating systems, have already surged past the 25 million sales mark—easily surpassing the last decade’s worth of fully configured PC tablet sales.”

With that kind of performance expected on tablets, Wintel will lose a huge share of all client IT. M$ will not get far starting from zero in apps for ARM and Intel is entering an high-tech market years late. I would bet on Linux and ARM. Easy growth means easy money for everyone except Wintel.

It seems competition in the server space also has Wintel worried. ARM+GNU/Linux will take share there for businesses.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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