INTEL IS GETTING INTO operating systems big time. The OSes in question run on Mobile Internet Devices and Intel has a big future mapped out for these things. It may not be betting the farm on them, but certainly the double garage, some of the barns and half the furniture could end up on the table.
Blame the Atom. That wee bit of silicon is responsible for much head-scratching in Satan Clara, if you ask us. The scale of the little processor's success surprised the chip maker big time. And it's our contention that the margins it makes on the things aren't on the order Intel normally expects. Funnily enough, the missives that normally ensue from the Intel PR army when we say such a thing help confirm the notion in our Atom-sized brain. But that's another matter.
What is interesting, listening to Anand Chandrasekher banging the MID drum here on Intel's stage at Computex Taipei, is that there is a whole raft of operating systems out there that can run these devices.
"We'll always have Windows on our platforms," Anand told the press, rather unconvincingly.
And, spookily, just as the press conference got underway and software outfit Wind River was paraded onstage to tell us what it's up to in the mobile internet space, a few thousand miles away in Satan Clara, the eyes were being dotted and the tees crossed on the statement informing the world that Wind River was about to be Borged, to become a wholly-owned Intel subsidiary.
Amongst other things, Wind River peddles a "market-leading proprietary and multicore-ready real-time operating system" for embedded systems.
Intel first put the cat among the Voles when it handed its Moblin 2 platform over to the Linux Foundation. The OS - for it is one, sort of - was reportedly designed to run on Atom-powered devices. It allows a wide range of other operating systems - prettier ones, more like what we used to think of graphical user interfaces - to run on the Atom platform. Chandrasekher showed Android running on just such a device.
Questioned by one Charlie Demerjian about Android, Chandrasekher said Intel was keen to enable all comers to run operating systems on MIDs powered by its chips. "It's not that we don't support Windows, he said separately, "we're just following the action" (in the marketplace).
And in MIDs at least, that action is increasingly moving away from Windows and towards more open source offerings and that, in no small measure, is thanks to Moblin2.
Intel showed some pretty nifty handheld MIDs here, some of which were based on the upcoming Moorestown version of Atom. Inevitably these looked like big fat Iphones, but if these devices take off as the manufacturers think they will, and as Intel hopes they will, then millions of users may be dumping the Smartphone and the Netbook and maybe the laptop too. Certainly, Moorestown and the later Medfield Atoms will also be powering larger, keyboard-equipped Netbook-type devices as well. And with such frantic open source OS development going on, we can expect to see many more flavours of operating system tipping up on a wide range of computing devices and this will threaten Microsoft's trump card, which is that most people go with Windows because that's what they know and are familiar with.
Once Intel begins shipping Moorestown which is promised for the end for this year and then later, in 2011 when the 32nm Medfield is slated to appear, then any quibble over margin - whether we've imagined it or not - will be history, as indeed may be the Wintel axis which has served the industry for decades.
Microsoft has a lot riding on Windows 7. Not only does it have to obliterate any memory of Vista, it also has to be a better XP than XP. So not only is the threat posed by Linux growing but - thanks in part to Intel - it's now coming at Microsoft from below as well as sideways and above. Our man Ballmer may need to reinforce the seat of his pants. µ