The Facebook shorthand for unusual relationships applies well to what used to be known as Wintel: despite flirtations with Alpha and Power PC and other processors, for the last few years Windows has been synonymous with Intel x86 and compatible processors. But Intel hasn't been exactly monogamous. There's been the sexy mistress, Apple, who sometimes gets first dibs on the latest chips but is more like the haut couture designer whose look will show up in mass market high street designs; giving Apple the chip for the MacBook Air could be less about succumbing to Jobs' reality distortion field and more about showing the PC makers what kind of ultraportable they could be making and selling millions of (which is, of course, where Intel will clean up).
And there's been the on-again-off-again flirtations with various flavours of Linux, especially Moblin - which for a long time was mainly there to frighten Microsoft (and more recently Google, although we doubt it has the same disturbing effect as on Microsoft - Android and Chrome aren't nearly as central to Google's core business, or its sense of identity). Maybe at some point the Meego project that combines Moblin and Nokia's Maemo will become a serious mobile operating system, but today it's more the threat of a threat than a true challenge to either Windows or Android.
Thinking over the announcement that the next version of Windows will run on ARM as well as x86 - sandwiched as it was between the flood of SandyBridge PCs delivering truly impressive performance, AMD delivering what might be a winning combination of GPU performance, low power and price, Microsoft cherry-picking a handful of interesting PC form factors to showcase and Steve Ballmer's Kinect Avatar waggling its eyebrows over a huge gaming success - we've been wondering how complicated the Intel/Microsoft relationship status really is. Does Microsoft finally taking a long-running backroom project and making it part of the Windows architecture mean that Intel played the scary Meego card once too often and Microsoft is calling its bluff; I'll see your challenger to Windows and raise you one of the processor sthat's powered the smartphone revolution? Or did Microsoft decide it couldn't wait any longer for an Intel processor that gets down to the same power envelope as ARM? The Oak Trail tablets we've seen around the show are faster and lighter and longer-lasting than current Atoms, but the eight hours of battery they'll get isn’t fifteen hours and they don’t weigh 400gm like the BlackBerry PlayBook. And Medfield will do better, but Medfield isn’t here yet (neither is Windows on ARM of course).
It's complicated doesn't mean divorce. Intel will continue to be the powerhouse of Windows and it's far too early to know what Windows on ARM will actually deliver (Mac OS on ARM is iOS, which is a long way from Mac OS X but Microsoft already has an impressive ARM-level programming environment in Silverlight and XNA for Windows Phone so we're not assuming that not being x86 Windows means a toy version of Windows). And managing a complicated relationship is - well - complicated; Microsoft now has to deal with multiple hardware lifecycles and driver support for multiple architectures. But for the rest of us, Microsoft and Intel's interesting times (in the Chinese curse sense of the word) should produce something more interesting (in the technical sense of the word) than this year's crop of me-too Android tablets in random OS versions that are all over the CES show floor like a rash.