Wintelism vs. Japan:
Standards Competition and Institutional Adjustment
in the Global Computer Industry
The Japanese have had notable success in the field of computer hardware. For instance, they are strong producers of computer components and peripherals, such as memory chips, flat panel displays, floppy disk drives, CD-ROMs, and laser printer engines. However, they have not been competitive in the key areas of computer architecture and application software, which have come to shape the development of the industry. My dissertation focuses on Japan’s industrial performance in computer architecture, in which two American companies, Microsoft and Intel, have all but monopolized the fields of operating systems and microprocessors, respectively. My dissertation will analyze why Japan has failed to meet the unique technological challenge presented by these American firms in computer architecture.
The architectural competition in the global computer industry has been labeled "Wintelism," a term derived from the "Windows" of Microsoft’s famous operating system and “Intel,” the world’s leading producer of PC microprocessors (x86 and Pentium series). In a narrow sense, Wintelism refers to the structural dominance of Microsoft and Intel in the global computer market. In a broader sense, however, Wintelism signifies the rise of a new industrial paradigm, which is potentially comparable to the British Model in the nineteenth century, Fordism in the twentieth century, and the Japanese Lean Production Model in more recent years. The rise of Wintelism challenges firms and governments to adjust their institutions to a new competitive environment, that is, to reformulate business strategies, to restructure industrial organizations, and to carve out a new industrial role for the state.
How must firms change their corporate strategies to do battle in the new world of Wintelist standards competition? Do centralized or decentralized structures of economic governance work better? Are large, established firms or newer, more agile companies best equipped to meet the new technological challenge? How must governments alter their industrial policies? Does strong or weak state intervention work better? How must governments adjust other economic policies? Should they enforce stronger or weaker antitrust laws? Should they assert more or less protection of intellectual property? In short, what kind of institutional solutions are appropriate to cope with the challenges of Wintelism as a new industrial paradigm?
The significance of this topic transcends the boundaries of the computer industry alone. Japanese and Western scholars alike are hard at work on this issue and I hope that my dissertation will come to occupy an important place in their debate. In particular, I will offer the theory of technological fitness to explain the difficulties of Japan’s software electronics industry, one that I believe is superior to alternative theories currently employed in international political economy.