The Future According to Intel: The End of Linux and Windows?

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This week is IDF, the Intel Developer's Forum in Beijing, China, and both the location of the event and what Intel is presenting will have a far-reaching impact on your future.


I'm going to stay away from product code names and the specifics of the announcements, which you can get in detail elsewhere, and focus on the kind of world that Intel is imagining. It is a different world, one that clearly isn't Microsoft-centric, even though it pushes similar initiatives, and one that safer, more personal, more connected, and vastly more intelligent.


More Intelligent Servers and Services


Let's start from the middle and move out. In the middle are centralized services running on massively parallel servers which can automatically reconfigure themselves on the fly to do productivity applications, games, graphics applications, or super-computer level mathematics. This is at the heart of Intel's new world, and massive multi-core allows for the kind of flexibility that would allow these centralized servers to supply a wide variety of services.


In addition, the number of cores should allow a sharp increase in the artificial intelligence demonstrated by these platforms due largely to the massive parallel processing power on tap and the need for that power by future AI programs that need to make real-time decisions.


The flexibility Intel imagines imagine should have strong environmental benefits as well, because these servers pull only the power they need and, as load drops, will be able to cycle down (or off) the cores and secondary systems that aren't currently needed. This should both increase duty cycles for the related hardware and lower dramatically the amount of power that is currently wasted.


WiMax Is Everywhere.


Intel is a solid believer in WiMax, which is kind of like super WiFi in that instead of covering your local Starbucks it will cover a good chunk of your city. With attributes similar to cable in terms of bandwidth and loading, it promises a future where for relatively little money you can be connected with higher bandwidth and more positional flexibility than WiFi. Designed to be flat-rate out of the gate, it suggests a future where you wouldn't need wires for PCs or VOIP phones regardless of whether you were at home, at work, or traveling on the road.


This goes beyond traditional PCs to encompass automotive and home future home and personal entertainment products, which could provide both location-specific services and global entertainment on demand. While this will be a nasty fight with next generation cell phone data, Intel is betting WiMax will win the fight and is already planning on having WiMax-enabled products on the market in a few months.


The Pocket PC on Steroids


But the most powerful of the client products is Intel's future Ultra Mobile PC. While the initial UMPCs were too expensive, too big, and not particularly compelling, the future UMPC is about to butterfly into the next iPod. And given Apple is now a partner, it could actually be the next iPod, in one form or another. With target prices of under $600, always-connected broadband capability, hours of battery life, and much better performance, the future of the PC you can put in your pocket looks a lot better than the present.


With multiple wireless options this thing will -- particularly when coupled with WiMax or 3/4G cell phone data services -- provide a breadth of services that laptops couldn't a few years ago, and at a fraction of the price.


The Intel UMPC vision is slated to be in two forms -- Professional, which would be the full Windows/Office configuration and probably more targeted at vertical markets initially, and Consumer, which would be broad market, have gaming and multi-media functions, run an embedded version of Linux and be what Origami aspired to but never really reached.


The first version gets really interesting if we step outside of what Intel is doing and add some flexible screen technology that Philips is creating and rethink the old ThinkPad Butterfly notebook so you can have a large screen and big keyboard in a very small laptop.


The second version is compelling by itself as it would focus on music, movies, TV, games, and communications (including the web) to potentially provide what the PSP, iPod, GPS system, and PDA do today in a (and this is the key) easy-to-use, connected and inexpensive product. It could even become a super-iPhone, though you'll probably choose to use a headset rather than look dorky with one of these up near your head.


Thinking About the Future


We are already seeing kids in Asia who don't want PCs because their cell phone is all they need. Intel's vision suggests they see this trend and are starting to position their technologies, both on the PC and in the server, to address this emerging market. It is interesting to note that they also apparently see a future where Windows, as we know it, is gone, and the operating system is almost transparent as we increasingly live on the Web or in applications that address our distinct needs.


This is a path different than the one that either Linux or Microsoft are officially on, and while it will use embedded derivatives it suggests both groups probably would be well served to focus on the embedded segment more. It is interesting to note that after the local embedded conference, the engineers I spoke with didn't think either Microsoft or Linux folks understood what was coming and what they had to do to get ahead of this curve.


That suggests that in the coming future, we could see a new Microsoft in a company that grasps the opportunity and moves to address it and avoid the problems with any of the current competitors.


Wouldn't it be interesting if that new company was Apple? Think about it, and if you want to see this future, go here.


Are you ready?