Up Next: Intel Everywhere?

Opinion: Intel's move to become a platform company, if done right, could be a boon for corporate customers.

As Intel recasts itself to become "a platform company" customers have every reason to wonder, "Whats in it for us?" Its too early to tell, but Im hopeful Intels platforms will make PCs easier to buy and less expensive, as well as allow them to add important functional improvements.

The challenge in creating new platforms is that Intel will have to sell an awful lot of chips to make the effort worthwhile. Intels first platform, Centrino, didnt do so much to improve mobile computing as to package together features that customers would have bought anyway, like Wi-Fi, and added them to Intels standard offerings.

Centrino has, however, made optimized mobile platforms easier to buy, even if its also had the effect of homogenizing the offerings of various hardware manufacturers. If the hardware OEMs arent careful, customers could soon find themselves asking for the Intel platform rather than a specific brand of machine.

/zimages/5/28571.gifWill Intel platforms bolster the sagging PC business? Click here to read more.

If customers are buying commodity computers, this could be a good thing as it would turn the screws even tighter on the hardware vendors. It will also mean that new features, like built-in cellular phones and VOIP in portables, could become common much more quickly than would otherwise occur. But I return to the fact that Intel is likely to only invest in creating platforms the company is sure it can sell in large numbers. That means the new Intel platforms arent likely to be bleeding edge or even close.

That would be the conservative play. There is always the possibility that Intel will throw caution to the wind and do something wild and crazy. While waiting for this to happen, however, I suggest that you continue breathing normally. Intel is not known for big surprises.

Something else likely to govern Intels platform plans is the companys complex relationship with Microsoft. The two must work closely together, and they both have PC hardware OEMs as primary customers. Over the years, Ive seen many Intel initiatives essentially grounded because they flew in the face of what Microsoft had in mind. Intel would like to be known as a company that really innovates, but whenever it does innovate, Microsoft seems able to steal the limelight.

The poor hardware vendors sometimes find themselves caught in the middle, but always seem to veer toward Microsoft at the finish line. Further, at least some of Intels platform features, whatever they turn out to be, will require operating system support. This will happen only if the two PC giants are able to work out a common road map.

Intels talk of a new business platform with improved, built-in system management features could make life easier for corporate customers. It seems to complement Microsofts efforts in the same direction. Customers should hope the two will make this happen as it has the potential to significantly reduce total cost-of-ownership for enterprise PC installations.

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In the home environment, where Intel also plans to offer a new platform, the move toward media-centric home systems and wireless media extenders offers a chance for Microsoft and Intel to do some real good by working together.

A standard Intel media center platform would make it easier for software developers to create applications and for Microsoft to roll out new features, supported by the Intel chip set.

Home and business desktops are two of the platforms Intel has said it plans to create. The other two are home and business notebooks, where new communications features may be interesting in concept, but hard to sell to the mass market.

Adding a cellular capability to notebooks, for example, is only useful if customers are willing to pay for the required cellular service. Adding a VOIP capability, allowing users to place telephone calls over the Internet from any broadband network, is interesting but likewise requires a service component.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about Intel PCs including VOIP and cellular capabilities.

From Intels perspective, platforms offer the chance to sell an ever-larger portion of the bill of materials for a desktop, laptop or server to hardware manufacturers. Customers, however, must still wonder what happens when—and if—Intel Inside becomes Intel Everything.

Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers.

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