Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Wintel" changes its meaning

In case you missed the news, on June 4th, Intel purchased the embedded Operating System company, Wind River. You can read the press release here:

Having worked in the embedded market since the early 90s it is interesting to see the evolution from the tight Intel and Microsoft coupling, once sarcastically referred to as "Wintel", deteriorate to to the point that perhaps the new slang should be Lintel (as there is little doubt that Intel's acquisition was for the Linux part of Wind River).

With speculation that Windows 7 may get ported to the ARM architecture and Intel grasping at the handset and mobile markets with Linux, the marriage between Microsoft and Intel seems to be near to an end. Interestingly, the day before the Intel purchase, a Microsoft spokesperson had this to say about the rumors of a Windows 7 ARM port:

“At this time, Windows 7 does not support any ARM architecture. Currently, Windows works on both x86 and x64 platforms, which, thanks to the pervasive PC hardware standard, power the vast majority of the world’s laptops and desktops. In the specialized devices space, where ARM is well suited, we offer the Windows Embedded CE platform.”

Notice the key phrase "at this time". I, for one, hope Windows 7 comes to ARM as I would like to finally see some real battery life out of full featured Microsoft based laptop.

I once joked with my nerdy friends that "10 years ago would you have thought that Apple would run a PC (X86) Architecture (instead of Power Architecture / PPC) and Microsoft would run PPC (like they do in the XBOX 360)." Perhaps the relationship was changing as far back as 6 or 7 years ago when those decisions were made. Being involved in the original Xbox concept with AMD and bearing witness to Intel's power with Microsoft back then really makes the situation shocking.

So, what is my opinion of the Intel acquisition? It may help Intel build some credibility in the handset space for their first *almost* capable part, the Intel ATOM, particularly given the involvement in Android by Wind River. Also, I think Android will start to be an operating environment that will directly challenge the traditional OS model that is the mainstay of Microsoft. So battle lines may in fact be being drawn around these new class of netbooks, perhaps looking something like Microsoft and ARM vs Intel and Google.

As for the embedded market: I think the real winners in Intel's acquisition will be the other embedded Linux vendors, like Montavista, and Real Time OSes, like QNX. Fear of limited support for other hardware may send Wind River customers en mass to alternatives and ARM licensees (TI, NEC, ST, Freescale, etc.) will be looking for new partners.