"Far across the distance
and spaces between us
You have come to show you go on."
-- From "My Heart Will Go On" by Will Jennings, as made famous by Celine Dion
Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) is leaving the Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) Itanium processor behind. With standard server chips from Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) and elsewhere in the Intel family growing up in a big way, there's no need to keep developing software for a very different chip architecture anymore. Nobody runs Windows much on Itaniums anyway -- but Itanium's heart will go on.
According to market research firm IDC, only around 5% of Intel's Itanium chips end up running Windows software, making it one area where Linux beats Microsoft with a 29% market share. Even at that, Linux specialist Red Hat (NYSE: RHT ) already withdrew from the Itanium because the market just wasn't big enough. The only serious platform remaining is the HP-UX Unix system -- and that comes from Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) which helped Intel design the Itanium chip to begin with.
Intel's Xeon chips and AMD's Opterons are now massive beasts that can stand up to workloads that used to require specialized processors. Microsoft, Red Hat, and others will continue to support their Itanium customers for a few years, but won't be looking to add any new accounts. Xeons will flow into the vacuum left behind by the departing Itanium sales, while AMD might be able to snag a few sales where the company never had any Itanium-compatible products to offer.
As this troubled product line fades to black, HP might want to take the Itanium off Intel's hands and then outsource manufacturing back to Intel or perhaps, if they can support production, a third-party foundry like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE: TSM ) . I mean, it's pretty much HP's baby by now anyway, and HP has the conglomerate-tinted chutzpah to make it work. Intel could reinvest the resources it's putting behind Itanium into its core offerings instead. After unloading memory chips and other nonessential operations over the past few years, I can see Intel going this way. And so, Itanium's heart will go on -- to a different rhythm.
In my eyes, the end of Itanium support for Windows is a nonevent for Intel and Microsoft but a potential opportunity for AMD to steal some Intel business and for HP to take control over a favored component.
What do you think, dear Fool? Let your voice be heard in the comments below.