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Intel Thinking Beyond The Browser

SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel Tuesday launched a broad-based mobile initiative it says could forever change the way the industry thinks about the Internet.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant gathered a swarm of top-tier software vendors here for the official debut of its Mobilized Software Initiative (MSI). The program is a collaboration between the computing and communications industries. The idea is to help companies create applications that keep working productively, regardless of network connection status.

Similar in the way Intel approached PC vendors in the 80s to make sure everyone standardized their products, the company is again working with software developers, IT managers, and solution providers with the tools and services they need to plan, design, and build the next generation of mobile and wireless applications. The concept was highlighted during this past September's Intel Developers Forum.

Intel Chief Strategist Christopher Thomas, who back in 1997 first wrote about what he calls the "mobility inflection point," says the industry is "on the cusp of a major change."

"I liken this movement to how our industry was back in 1984 and 1985, when the Cobol programmer was king, that is until Lotus 123 came around and people could do more for themselves," Thomas told internetnews.com. "We are living it again with online forms and the browser. Customers are saying, 'I need to do more than what you let me do'. We have gone back to a centralized architecture and that is not good. What is different now is that we are taking the next step forward with more of a service-oriented architecture. This addresses documents as applications. People won't have to wait for HTML to load in and they won't have to wait for the Web developers to do the work for them. They can do it themselves."

Thomas says Intel's role will be to provide the silicon through its Pentium, XScale and IXA network processors as well as their chipsets. The company is also providing development and testing tools as well as solution blueprints and programs with ISVs, Sis and OEMs.

But as the company's key evangelist, Thomas says the idea of a mobility inflection point would never have gotten off the ground were it not for the timely development of two technologies: XML and Wi-Fi.

"This liberation of XML targeted at the mobile community is absolutely amazing," he said. "Because of that, what is hosted in the next generation are Web services. Similarly, Wi-Fi has given us a major boost and now we have great momentum with our customers. For example, we had a prototype of a FedEx mobilized solution back in 1997. At the time they told us that their culture wasn't ready for it. Now in 2003, it's a key part of their business. The nice thing now is that IT gets it when we talk to them about moving them over to Wi-Fi. It's like in 1996, when the question was not 'if' but 'when' you were going to go to the Web."

Intel has extremely broad industry support including big names like Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun, Adobe and Macromedia on its side. The coalition also includes smaller key players like AvantGo, Tailwind, Dreamfactory, InfoPath, IONA and Sandhill.

Intel says the emerging application architectures include eForms or documents that are the user interface and not the end result of one; offline portals that make content available offline through structured downloads; and database synchronization, which use "mini-database apps.

Current working examples include Microsoft Office 2003, Macromedia Central and Autodesk Viewer. The idea is that the platform connects to multiple Web services even when network connections are interrupted.

In addition to the online/offline functionality, Intel says its MSI program is working on intelligent roaming capabilities when moving from hotspot to hotspot, so that users won't waste time reconnecting or lose critical data due to dropped connections. The company is also looking at enabling flexible data access and applications on various computing devices, whether they are laptops, desktops, handhelds or servers. And to make sure end users can extend the life of their devices, Intel is also focusing on tuning applications to conserve power.

"We go from a thin client browser to a browser or a rich client server written by a company," Thomas said. "Now you have a whole generation of vendors that build standards based platforms, which connect to multiple Web services. We recently launched a Web book with Montgomery Press that uses Adobe PDFs. The applications in them are the lead forms that links to more information and the lead stays with it. What that gives you is an offline form that travels with you that reports information back to the publisher. Instead of relying on click counts, here you have a document that knows exactly who has downloaded it and what that person is interested in reading about. That alone could change the way we charge for advertising on the Internet."

Going forward, Intel says it is continuing to build business partner agreements for the media documents. The company is currently conducting a "proof of concept" (prototyping) on a MSI book. Intel said it will continue to hold MSI outreach events throughout 2004.