Ex-Apple exec: Apple's Arm-based silicon will speed end of Microsoft Windows-Intel duopoly

Apple silicon will force the whole PC industry to Arm architecture chips, argues former Apple exec Jean-Louis Gassée.

First look at Apple Silicon

Apple's Arm-based silicon for future Macs could force Microsoft to improve Windows on Arm for the Surface Pro X and others, and in doing so seriously harm the Windows-Intel x86 alliance. 

That's according to Jean-Louis Gassée, author of the Monday Note blog and a former Apple exec during 1980s, mostly in the company's years without co-founder Steve Jobs at the helm. 

Gassée thinks Apple's move to Apple silicon – which it's demonstrated can run Microsoft's Office apps when the Arm-based Surface Pro X couldn't – leaves Microsoft with one choice. 

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"Either forget Windows on Arm and cede modern PCs to Apple, or forge ahead, fix app compatibility problems and offer an Arm-based alternative to Apple's new Macs," wrote Gassée in an article entitled 'Apple silicon: The passing of Wintel'. 

"It's a false dilemma, of course. Microsoft will forge ahead… with repercussions for the rest of the Windows PC industry."

Gassée wonders what Windows OEMs like Asus, Dell, and HP will do if Apple raises the bar of Arm on Macs, and Microsoft responds with better Arm Surface devices? 

"Not only will Apple silicon make better Macs, it will force Microsoft to polish its Windows on Arm act, both hardware and software," he writes. 

"To compete, PC manufacturers will have to follow suit, they'll 'go Arm' because, all defensive rhetoric aside, Apple and Microsoft will have made the x86 architecture feel like what it actually is: old."

Intel, in Gassée's view, is in a worse position now than when it missed the rise of smartphones. Back then, it faltered on smartphones because of how much money it was earning from x86 architecture thanks to the Intel-Windows duopoly. 

"Now, that union, that advantage is about to disappear. Intel will face Arm-based SoCs running Windows on Arm with applications, in PC-like quantities, at lower prices," he writes. 

"This leaves Intel with one path: if you can't beat them, join them. Intel will retake an Arm license (it sold its Arm-based XScale business to Marvell in 2006) and come up with a competitive Arm SoC offering for PC OEMs. Margins will inevitably suffer as the Arm-based SoC field is filled with sharp competitors such as Qualcomm and Nvidia, sure to be joined by arch-enemy AMD and others, all ushering in a new era of PCs."

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But former Windows boss Steven Sinofsky doesn't think Microsoft is in the same position as Apple to benefit from a transition to Arm-based CPUs for the desktop OS. 

"Apple can make Arm compatible with macOS APIs (for now) *because* it has safe, secure, efficient… Arm OS on phones/iPads. Microsoft would just have the messy silicon transition without the Arm upsides," wrote Sinofsky.

Gassée had a hand in Apple's doomed Newton PDA and, after leaving in 1990 as a defender of Apple's high-margin strategy, he created BeOS that ran on a Mac clone

Apple almost acquired Be in the mid-1990s but eventually bought Job's NeXT, whose OS became the foundation for Mac OS X. Be in 2002 extracted a settlement from Microsoft after accusing it of creating agreements with OEMs to prevent its OS being installed alongside Windows.