iphoneThere was a time -- seems like ancient history, doesn't it? -- when Apple (AAPL) played David to Microsoft's (MSFT) Goliath.

No more. At the close of Wednesday's stock trading session, Apple's market capitalization stood at $222 billion, surpassing Microsoft, which had a value of $219 billion. Tech watchers hailed Apple's feat as the end of an era, changing of the guard, pick your metaphor.

The development is a symbolic victory for Apple, which has sparred with Microsoft for over two decades, as well as a sign of the times. Today, Apple is arguably the hottest company on the planet, while Microsoft -- still huge by any measure -- is falling behind.

Shift From Desktop to Mobile

More than anything else, the milestone signals the increasing shift from desktop computing, where Microsoft has long reigned, to mobile computing, where Apple has become the belle of the ball, thanks to wildly popular products like the iPhone, iPod and iPad.

During the 1990s Microsoft was a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, dominating the software market with its Windows operating system and Office business productivity software suite. At the the time, Apple struggled to gain its footing, though it maintained a die-hard fan base among graphic designers and desktop publishers.

Now, things are different. Apple has transformed itself into a dominant music and mobile-computing company by anticipating the seismic changes that would rock the recording industry, and the advent of smartphones.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has struggled to find success in the Internet era, and its mobile efforts have largely been a bust. Huge companies like Apple and Microsoft can see their market capitalization swing up or down by billions of dollars in a single day, so Microsoft could temporarily snatch back the crown.

But there's not doubt which way the wind is blowing.

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