Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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7/29/2013
10:49 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
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Time For Plan B At Intel

Windows 8's poor reception has opened a wider door for competitive platforms. Microsoft's partner in the Wintel hegemony should invest in an alternative.

It is time for Intel to begin placing bigger bets on Windows alternatives.

Let me assure you that I'm not schizophrenic, although I do understand why you might be wondering about that right now. Yes, I do remember the advice I gave to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich in my last column, "Don't Give Up on the PC." And now I'm suggesting he invest more heavily in Windows competitors. I know it sounds contradictory. But it's not.

As Intel's new top executive continues to evaluate the company's strategic priorities, he'd be foolhardy not to give Windows every shot at success. The company's PC Client Group, or PCG, generates far more sales and profit than any other business unit -- and the lion's share of those spoils comes from Intel chips inside Windows machines. Hence the don't-give-up message.

[ Can Microsoft eliminate the need for a Plan B at Intel? Read Microsoft's Dilemma: Windows 8.1 May Not Be Enough. ]

The flipside is that, on an annual basis, PCG's revenue and operating income have been declining every quarter since Microsoft released Windows 8 to manufacturing. Coincidence? Unless you're the kind of person who needs those pre-flight seat-belt fastening instructions, you don't need me to answer that.

OK, so don't put all your eggs in the Windows basket. Check. Now for the tough part: where to incubate the rest of those eggs?

The first choice, I think, has to be Google's Chrome OS. PC makers, some of which feel slighted by recent Microsoft moves -- such as the company's foray into the systems business with Surface -- have already been warming to Google's more desktop-like platform. So that's a big plus. Offering something your customers already want is so much easier than having to convince them that they want to buy what you're selling.

As for the OEMs' customers, IT isn't going to drop Windows for Chrome anytime in the next couple of years -- no matter what. But CIOs are kicking the tires. And the longer Microsoft's pit crew takes to swap out the wheels and get Windows back onto the track, the more viable it becomes. Keep in mind that switching platforms is only going to get easier as more of what we do migrates up to the cloud.

The more traditional Linux distributions should also be considered, though I have to admit that I'm not a big believer. I've been playing with Ubuntu's latest stable release, and I have to say that I'm impressed with how far Linux has come. While I still don't think it's ready for prime time, I can tell you with assurance that the mainstream is just around the corner. I mean that in a Herbert Hoover sort of way.

Android, Google's Java-on-Linux variant, may also be worth a look. That's a controversial recommendation, I know, as there are piles of reasons why Intel shouldn't bother. For one, OS development has splintered to the point that some believe Google has lost control of the platform. For another, the jury is still out on whether Android has enough mettle to extend into the desktop. Indeed, the jury is still out on whether any OS should even cover that much ground. (Think: Windows.)

On the positive side, Android's already got a wide reach, both in terms of the raw number of users as well as the vast stable of developers. So the chicken-and-egg thing is already well under control. As well, new versions of the OS continue to take aim at show-stoppers like security, email services and multi-tasking.

Of the three choices, I favor Chrome because of its focus on the desktop. I might consider investing in Android, as well. After all, none of the alternatives -- including Windows -- are a sure thing. So you might as well hedge your bets.

By now, that should be crystal clear to just about everyone. Everyone but the seat-belt people, of course.

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sjacks982
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sjacks982,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/2/2013 | 9:34:51 PM
re: Time For Plan B At Intel
Perhaps IT journalists are ignorant or blindly take Vendor BS as truth. Facts:

1.) M$ has a stronger partner relationship with AMD than with Intel.

2.) Microsoft officially does not support CPUs that the hardware mfg did not write a Hardware Abstraction Layer for. By necessity they support x86, but AMD wrote the 64 bit Windows HAL.

3.) Intel's relationship with Microsoft was strained by Itanium. Intel's relationship with Apple is stronger. (Funny that Apple controls ARM Holdings, Intel's biggest platform rival.) Unfortunately for Intel the future is GPU assist and we know how good Intel garphics are.

4.) Intel has been promoting Linux over Windows for some time now. Meego, Moblin, etc. How could you miss their vendor deluge over Boxee-Box Intel design win over Apple Tegra? Linux vs IOS; Intel vs ARM.

5.) Anyone with even half a brain knows that True Unix/Linux will trump a ("purposely handicapped"") Android system. Only reason for Android's existence is failure of JME (rem Oracle bought Sun) on Symbian (a Palm OS wanna be). The "tiny system" compromises in Android's programming model makes it a future DOS.

6.) Re: Chrome lovers: Probably a reason why mfgs are shy about sales numbers?
ggiese87101
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ggiese87101,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/31/2013 | 7:35:49 PM
re: Time For Plan B At Intel
Intel (or maybe AMD?) needs to partner with Google to build a Nexus 23 - an all-in-one Android 4.x reference computer w/23" touch screen that showcases Android using the x86 processor and graphics capabilities. It would be the most powerful Android device you could buy. The main thing is to tune the board and chips to focus only on what Android could/should do and avoid all the legacy stuff that PCs today are saddled with.

A much stronger case for Linux is also needed, and the non-hobbyist side of the community needs to rally around a single "distribution", at least a core set of stuff that PC makers would not be changing (er, value-adding??) and that device and board manufacturers and software developers could count on to have a stability and a larger market. Part of it means embracing gamer developers (Valve/Steam, EA, maybe even Nintendo) and multimedia (Adobe) so they feel more comfortable and confident in supporting the platform. The overall computing market today is more fragmented than ever, but it's clear that there are some winners, such as Apple and Google, that can be emulated to a degree. Ubuntu/Canonical has some good ideas but they are too small to make a dent, need to partner with chip makers, device manufacturers, app developers, etc. I'm hoping that a brand-new Dell will split off it's consumer division from it's server division and start doing some radical new things. Maybe they need to make the Android 23, or go all-in on Linux. Or both!

ChomeOS is still too limited and can't yet take advantage of the power and breadth of what an x86 PC platform can do. Until it can run Adobe CS and the latest "push-the-limit" 3D games and improve it's offline support, it's not going to go mainstream.

Microsoft needs more competition, and Intel/AMD need more orders. Microsoft will do fine in the end, but they need an even bigger kick in the behind to get moving, and the breakup of Wintel will help do that.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
7/31/2013 | 1:12:08 AM
re: Time For Plan B At Intel
It's not just Power. It's low-end Power, low-end Sparc and low-end Itanium, plus all the new many massively parallel processing appliances and NoSQL and Hadoop deployments as well as clustered environments for high performance computing. Add to this the fact that these are the most expensive, higher-margin x86 machines where the dollars are much more significant than the units relative to PCs.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2013 | 12:39:52 AM
re: Time For Plan B At Intel
Good that you feel better, but what do you think the likelihood is that they will do that, sans Ballmer or not?
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2013 | 12:37:56 AM
re: Time For Plan B At Intel
That's a pretty small market. Even if they could replace every Power machine it would mean little for Intel's future. This is a very high end market that, so far at least, no x86 chip can enter.
Francoman
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Francoman,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/30/2013 | 7:06:14 PM
re: Time For Plan B At Intel
I want to join Mike in urging Intel to invest in Windows alternatives. Microsoft has a leadership issue. There is rally no excuse for the situation they find themselves in today. They had the money, talent and time, but lacked leadership. Intel needs to respond by investing in other Operating System Technologies.

I am a CIO presiding over what essentially is a Microsoft house. We have been pushed into HTML 5 probably prematurely, and our new mobile technology is Android. From working deep in the trenches, I can see Microsoft is going to hit the wall. Here is my unsolicited advice: 1. Change CEOs - Sorry Steve, but it is over. 2. Re-assess the business. 3. Create a new vision where every Microsoft powered device and can sync with all other Microsoft devices and non-Microsoft devices alike regardless of the version (Microsoft Universal Platform). 4. Stop the pruning the 40 million XP customers and provide them with incentives and tools for migration and access to the Microsoft Universal Platform. 5. Port Silverlight to Android as Silverlight remains the Richest of the RIA tools. 6. For 24 Months quit playing to Wall Street; Microsoft's new leader needs to tell Wall Street he needs to invest funds in reinventing the company.

Now that I got that off my chest, I feel better.
MFeibus
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MFeibus,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2013 | 6:56:07 PM
re: Time For Plan B At Intel
That's true, Doug. There's not much room for much of anything beyond x86 in that arena. But other server markets are getting more competitive. For example, ARM is having some success in highly dense datacenter deployments, and that's a fast growing segment.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2013 | 3:24:14 PM
re: Time For Plan B At Intel
Let's not forget about the higher-margin machines at the top end of the market. That's where x86 is making inroads against IBM Power http://twb.io/19uNcs4 HP Itanium and Oracle Sun Sparc, among others. This is a realm where the x86 story is strong and getting stronger. No Plan B required.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2013 | 1:45:19 PM
re: Time For Plan B At Intel
One interesting aspect of the Wintel relationship is that Apple always seems to get privileged access to chips. Apple's been given early access to new Core processors in the past, and there are rumors floating around that they're going to get prime access to the version of Haswell with the most GPU firepower, leaving Windows OEMs to (or so some of the Apple rumor sites presume) squabble over remaining components as they try to build their own high-end models. If Apple puts the new chips in its next MacBook Pros, I'm not how much benefit they'll be, since it's possible Apple is just pursuing more thin-ness by removing the dedicated graphics card. Still, this aspect of the Wintel empire has always intrigued me.
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