IDF: In search of a Message

A bit of this and a bit of that. This year’s spring Intel Developer Forum
suffered from a lack of focus unusual to Intel conferences in the past. Some
convergence, passing references to the Itanium 2 and of course, the Centrino–the
company’s new mobile wireless package. But no key message and no central

Some of it came from lack of speakers like Pat Gelsinger, Intel’s V-P and
CTO, who was unusually absent and sorely missed. Gelsinger knows the Indian
developer and market, while a lot of speakers this time around suffered from the
handicap of unfamiliarity with this geography. As a result, many messages,
barring the Centrino, were repeats of last time–something that showed in both
developer attendance and attention, which was thin.

Convergence is the key
One of the interesting sessions was the keynote address by Intel corporate
technology group V-P Frank Spindler. Last year, Gelsinger spoke extensively
about convergence. "Silicon integration would lead to accelerating
convergence of the computing and communications industries," he said.
Spindler spoke extensively on the same topic. While Gelsinger had spoken about
‘extending’ Moore’s Law, Spindler talked of how Metcalfe’s Law would be
at "the heart of the convergence of devices" that is likely to
happen… a message heard loud and often at the Sun developer conference in
Bangalore not too long ago.

Metcalfe’s Law states that the usefulness, or utility, of a network equals
the square of the number of users. "Right now, the number of
microprocessors shipping is very high, but the fact remains that only a
miniscule percentage of them are connected to each other. Once we find ways of
connecting them effectively, there’d be a macro-convergence in the
industry," said Spindler.

According to Spindler, this macro-convergence would cause a shift that’ll
create new models of usage, infrastructure to support new businesses and
business models, and even new norms of social behavior. While convergence at the
micro level will be driven by silicon, macro-level changes have to be brought on
by developers, he said, adding that Intel was developing radios based on the
company’s low-power CMOS process.

Centrino in India
For Indian developers, what was perhaps the most interesting bit was Intel’s
decision to set up a Centrino team in the country.

Announcing this at the IDF, V-P and general manger (mobile products group)
Dadi Perlmutter said, "We will be setting up Asia’s first design team
which will work on the Centrino mobile technology at the development center in
Bangalore. This is a part of our commitment to growth in India."

Though the company would not give investment or employee numbers, Intel India
president Ketan Sampath said the decision to establish the Centrino design team
was in keeping with Intel CEO Craig Barrett’s commitment to India. "The
decision to set up the Centrino design team in Bangalore is in keeping with our
CEO’s commitment to invest $100 million in India by 2005-06. We are very much
on track to do that," he added.

The elusive Itanium
Interestingly, McKinley (or Itanium 2 as it is now known) wasn’t so much
the centerstage as one would have expected, barring references to closer
integration with the recently-announced Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003.
"Yes, there’re going to be a series of new tools and capabilities that’ll
be announced. There’s going to be a continual support and collaboration
between MS and Intel for pushing Itanium 2," John Davies, V-P and director
of the Intel solutions group, said.

Intel had placed its bets on the second release of Itanium taking off better
than the first one did. But so far, there aren’t any signs of a pickup or of
activity on apps built around the processor. Though the Indian Institute of
Science–which hosted the IDF–did show off a recently-bought SGI
supercomputer built around the Itanium 2 processor, successes are still few and
far between. According to Gartner Dataquest, Sun Micro sold $7.8 billion worth
of 64-bit systems, and IBM sold $5.7 billion last year. Itanium-based systems
sales barely added up to a $100 million.

All told, the IDF could have done with a little more focus, enthusiasm and
speakers who knew the Indian developer better than to speak to them about
"uses of computers". The Indian developer, after all, is well out of
the cradle.

Sarita Rani

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