For years people have been asking if there will be a new king in the desktop to dethrone Microsoft’s Windows. It seems like this is actually the wrong question to ponder on. The real question should be around the chipset and not the operating system.
For years people have been sitting comfortably (or not) in front of their Windows PCs and laptops. They have used the keyboard and mouse, double-clicking and mouse-wheeling their way around Internet Explorer, Word, Excel and other Microsoft related user interfaces. Now, though, we’re starting to use touch and pinch and other types of haptic interfaces. And we’re doing that mainly thanks to Apple and its iOS and Google and its Android.
Although this change won’t affect Microsoft’s market domination of our desktops in the next couple of years, in a longer perspective it does pose a threat. This is why Microsoft is reported to be moving from Intel x86 architecture towards ARM.
While this may seem like a move by Microsoft geared towards tablets, I see it at face value as Microsoft putting its future on the ARM ecosystem of multiple chipset vendors. Yes, it will assist Microsoft in the tablets and smartphone markets simply by having their next-gen operating system run on ARM devices from multiple chipset vendors from day one and not as an afterthought, but it is also a move to protect Microsoft against Apple and Google.
Apple today is focused on the iPhone and iPad – everything else is marginal. They innovate today on the smartphone and then migrate those innovations to the Mac and the iPad. This happened for FaceTime as well as for the AppStore.
Google is now focused on smartphones and tablets with Android; and their Chrome OS is targeted at tablets and netbooks. But I can see Android moving towards laptops and PCs easily for the same reason that Apple moves innovation towards the Mac: people are getting used to the mobile OS and would start expecting some of its experiences to be available on their PCs. And since innovation today comes from the mobile arena, and usually begins on the hardware level – Microsoft needs to be there with the correct hardware. Hence ARM.
How will that affect future PCs? They might end up running ARM instead of x86. Not in 2012. But in 2013 they will definitely be there on the low end of the market. It’s the battle on the chipset – not on the OS.
Oh, and if you’re interested in operating system dominance on mobile and desktop, then you should probably read Martin Sauter’s short post on the subject.