LONDON -- Change can take different forms. You can have slow, gradual, evolutionary change. Or you can have change that is dramatic and earth-shattering. The latter is what Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction."
Remember those pioneer days?
In the pioneer days of personal computing, around about the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) and Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) started to work together. Intel provided the processors that powered the leading computers of the day, and Bill Gates and his Microsoft programrs designed the software to run on these computers.
Do you remember those pioneer days? I fondly recall my BBC Micro, and my friends had Spectrums and Commodore Amigas; we played games like Manic Miner and Elite -- those were the days!
At that time, Microsoft and Intel were just two among a myriad of emerging companies. Yet, through world-leading technology and, most importantly, strategic nous, these companies began to emerge as winners.
If you were lucky enough to have bought into these two businesses in the early 1990s, you would have made a fortune by now.
The Wintel empire
Eventually, the alliance between these two companies grew so strong and so formidable that it became known as the "Wintel" monopoly. And it really was a monopoly, as Intel-powered computers, with Microsoft software, have dominated computing for the past 20 years.
The alliance grew so powerful that, at one point, there were fears that it might abuse its position, and both the U.S. and the EU felt it necessary to take legal action to control its dominance.
During these years, we had slow, gradual change. There was Windows 95, Windows 2000, XP, Vista, and so on. There were Pentiums, then dual-core, then quad-core processors. You began to think the Wintel empire would last forever and ever.
The world according to Jobs
But not according to a certain Steve Jobs.
A lot of people think they can change the world. A lot of people try to change the world. But Steve really did change the world.
If a company, or two companies, is dominating the marketplace, how can you outflank them? It's quite easy really -- just, as they say, think different.
If Wintel rules the world of mice, pointers, and windows, then just invent another world -- that of touchscreens, gestures, and apps. If Wintel holds sway over the world of heavy, clunky desktops and laptops, invent a new world of light, portable smartphones and tablets.
The spell is broken
Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) did just that, producing the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, in quick succession. Suddenly, the Wintel spell had been broken. Now smartphones and tablets outsell PCs. Light, energy-efficient ARM-powered chips are replacing power-hungry Intel designs. Suddenly, Microsoft and Intel have turned from pioneers to dinosaurs. Welcome to creative destruction, Wintel.
Microsoft and Intel are now playing a desperate game of catch-up, within which Microsoft's recent launch of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 is a key move. But they are in a difficult position: Windows 8 feels to me to be an operating system with a split personality -- is it for touchscreens, or is it for mice and pointers?
Behind the curve
It will be very interesting to see if Windows can make the leap from the traditional desktop to touch, but they have a lot of hard work ahead of them, as they are already behind the curve.
It looks like this is just the beginning of an enduring trend that will favor companies like Apple, Samsung, ARM, and Google, and could lead to the gradual decline of Microsoft and Intel. Or can Wintel prove me wrong? The world of tech has a fascinating few years ahead of it.
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