Is Microsoft planning to ditch Intel post-Windows 8?

It's a radical thought. What if Microsoft is secretly planning to ditch Intel? With all of the recent talk about Windows RT "PCs", distinctions between the consumer roles associated with RT-based devices and the more traditional PC roles normally reserved for Intel-based systems have become blurred.

Suddenly, usage scenarios and form factors that were firmly part of Intel's territory are being encroached upon by a cornucopia of non-x86 Windows offerings. And cheering them all on is the chip maker's longtime comrade-in-arms, Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash.-based behemoth has been looking for a way out of the Wintel duopoloy for some time now, and the combination of increasingly powerful ARM designs and a tepid response to Intel's Ultrabook campaign has given the company the perfect opportunity to step out on its old partner.

The upside of such a move for Microsoft is obvious: The company gains access to a more power-efficient architecture that allows it to squeeze a variant of Windows down onto smaller form factor devices. And with BYOD fundamentally transforming the IT landscape into a sea of iPad work-alikes, the last place Microsoft wants to find itself is tied to Intel's stodgy vision of a traditional desktop/laptop computing experience.

This is why the pasty-faced brigade is pushing Windows RT hard. Microsoft has been giving its nascent ARM port the lion's share of the Windows 8 marketing buzz, including a slathering of attention on the Building Windows 8 bog.

Now we learn that there will be Windows RT PCs as well as the expected tablet-oriented iPad fighters, a subtle shift in nomenclature that signifies a more significant change in the company's overall strategy. Microsoft is no longer looking at Windows RT as a consumer electronics solution to combat Apple in the living room. Rather, it now sees RT as its last, best chance at maintaining future viability across the range of client computing scenarios.

Of course, this latest tack by its former fleet mate can't be sitting well with Intel. Any lingering questions about the company's recent warming to the Android Army have now been put to rest. The chip maker needs software to remain relevant, so if Microsoft has indeed decided to cast its client computing lot with ARM, Intel will need to forge new alliances in order to keep the bits pumping through its creaky old x86 designs. For the keepers of Moore's legacy, all roads now lead to Google.

Will Microsoft's Windows RT-strategy pan out? It's still too early to tell. And make no mistake, there are significant hurdles that have yet to be negotiated. Things like peripheral device support (lots of drivers to rework/recompile), enterprise manageability (Windows RT doesn't yet support Active Directory) and remote security (VPN support, et al) still need to be addressed. But with Microsoft pulling out all the stops to make RT a success, it's not a matter of if these gaps will be plugged but rather how quickly the company will work to fill-out the spec sheet for its new flagship client computing platform.

One thing's for sure: The days of the Wintel duopoly are numbered.

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