Intel Makes a Steady Move Beyond the PC

Intel CEO Paul Otellini
Intel CEO Paul Otellini speaks at IDF 2009. Source: Intel.

SAN FRANCISCO — Intel kicked off its 12th annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) with a keynote by CEO Paul Otellini that highlighted the world’s largest chipmaker’s ongoing efforts to branch out into profitable sectors beyond its core PC market.

That’s been a chief focus of Intel’s (NASDAQ: INTC) for some time: When IDF kicked off in 1997, it was focused on the PC, but has expanded far beyond that in the ensuing 12 years.

During his presentation today here at the Moscone Center West, Otellini went even further into that concept, discussing what Intel calls the “continuum” of billions of connected devices — a vision of computing that he said will result in “the same experience on any device,” ranging from embedded chips to handhelds and up to servers.

Central to that vision is a greater focus on mobile devices and on making application development work seamlessly across them.

For Intel, that task could be made easier thanks to the proliferation of its netbook-friendly Atom processor, which Otellini said helped give the industry growth in what would have been an otherwise down year.

Now, with Atom going into more and more devices, he said Intel’s goal for developers has become simply “write once and run in many places.”

“To do this, we have to have a seamless experience,” he added.

Focus on mobile: Atom, app store and Moblin

The netbook has been a solid market and the opportunity around its volume makes it clear that a better application environment is needed, he said. “Atom is at the heart of a lot of devices, so we have a common OS strategy. What we need is a common runtime strategy,” he said.

One way the chipmaking colossus aims to achieve this is by following Apple’s lead.

Intel today announced an app store framework that would allow hardware OEMs to sell their own apps for mobile devices. Similarly to how the Apple App Store helped to popularize mobile applications for the iPhone, the thinking is that hardware partners will also jump at the chance to build in their own app stores now that the concept has been proven.

“Users are continuing to be more comfortable with use these,” Otellini said.

So far, the Intel framework has attracted three OEMs: Asus, Acer and Dell.

Otellini today also announced a new release of the Moblin operating system — the Intel-backed, open source, Linux-based OS designed for netbooks and mobile Internet devices.

During his presentation, Otellini showed off Moblin version 2.1 for mobile phones. However, he shied away from revealing major details of what the release would add nor when it might be available.

He also said that Microsoft and Adobe would support Intel’s Moblin platform by bringing Silverlight and Flash, respectively, to Moblin.

Sun Microsystems would soon follow with JavaFX for Moblin as well, he said.

Additionally, Intel also plans to launch an Atom developer program to help port apps, deliver tools and provide software development kits (SDKs) for developers, as well as help developers sell components to other developers and drive more innovative apps around Atom.

Faster, smaller, better

Otellini also discussed Atom’s larger CPU siblings, which, as it turns out, are getting smaller all the time.

He spoke of Moore’s Law and Intel’s two-year, two-step “tick/tock” cycle of reducing transistor size and coming out with a new architecture in alternate years.

He showed off a slide with the 32nm wafers to show that Intel is well into production of 32 nanometer product.

[cob:Special_Report]After that comes 22nm, on which it appears Intel has now already moved into development: Otellini had a wafer to show off to the audience. The 22nm part will ship in 2011, using the next-generation core technology.

He showcased the new architecture, called Sandy Bridge, in a high-end desktop computer. Intel often shows off working silicon years before it ships — Otellini noted that Intel’s 2008 investor conference used demo computers running the Nehalem chip, even though Nehalem would not ship until the end of that year.

In a session with the press following his keynote, Otellini was asked mostly about the findings from the European Commission, released on Monday. He stated unequivocally, “We don’t do exclusive deals, we don’t do conditional deals, despite what you heard.”

He also said “there is nothing new in yesterday’s revelation of documents. I think they have consistently ignored information that would paint an entirely different story around those memos. I think we have customers that would state the characterization of that customer, Dell, was wrong.”

During his presentation, Otellini had shied away from some of the technologies many observers had hoped to hear about, like the Larrabee graphics chip. When asked why Larrabee, Intel’s effort at a graphics processor, hadn’t been discussed, he said there were five more keynotes to come and he didn’t want to steal their thunder.

Larrabee, for instance, is set be discussed later in the day by Sean Maloney, executive vice president of the Intel Architecture Group. Maloney takes the place of Pat Gelsinger, the executive who created the IDF show and who recently departed Intel to become president and chief operating officer of EMC.

IDF continues through Thursday.

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