Intel Wisely Embraces Open-Source Threat

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-01-27 Print this article Print

VTune helps make the most of hardware—you remember, the stuff Intel sells.

With Intels midmonth announcement of a Linux version of its VTune Performance Analyzer (see, the company faces—and even embraces—the open-source threat to the Wintel axis.

Spending time with VTune, looking under the hood at whats happening to code when it runs, makes a person recognize two things. First, a Pentium-family chip is an extraordinary machine; it keeps a scary number of plates spinning at once, while still making computing look as easy to most programmers as it was when a simple flowchart could describe what was going on.

Second, though, comes the painful discovery that there are a lot of ways to do things wrong—not producing incorrect results but wasting the processors power by creating worst-case scenarios instead of writing code that really moves. For example, branches in code are a bad thing on a Pentium 4 chip, with its 20-stage pipeline that needs to be refilled if the processor guesses wrong about which way the flow will go. VTune helps make the most of hardware—you remember, the stuff Intel sells.

When it was part of my job to specify PC configurations, back when a 386 was a hot box, we expected to spend about half as much on the software as on the hardware for a single desktop. That meant a $3,000 PC, plus DOS, Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect and dBASE III to be fully outfitted for basic needs. There was plenty of room in that budget for Intel and Microsoft to thrive.

That 2-1 rule continues to hold up pretty well today, but now were talking about a $700 PC and a $350 office suite—and Intel would like to keep selling a $300 chip as the heart of a desktop PC. That doesnt leave much in the budget for a power supply, a hard disk, some memory chips, maybe even a keyboard and a display.

If Linux software developers can deliver top-tier performance, the cost of that $700 PC doesnt need to include $100 or more in Windows licensing fees, and that additional buying power can look in Intels direction—which must be a comforting thought for a company that wants to stay in the chips.

Tell me what Linux still lacks at

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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