The way you hear it, Craig Barrett is a modern-day Moses. Substitute an Intel mother-board for the original stone tablets and here you have a man who climbs mountains and dispenses wisdom. And guess who he met at the top of a mountain? Not God, but his Republican wife, Barbara, an aspirant for the role of governor of Arizona. At the top of another mountain, one made of silicon, he met Intel president and now former chief executive officer Andrew Grove.
Okay, time for a reality check. Barrett is not as old as Moses. He’s 57. Whether he has the energy attributed to him is questionable. There is no doubt he climbs mountains, but the way one hears it he is an unstoppable bundle of energy. Yet when he steps on stage at a Sydney event held in his honour, his appearance is one of calm - he has a professorial, slightly stooped, look about him.
The latest mountain in Barrett’s sights is one being vacated by Grove, who fought and won his own battle with prostate cancer last year. Barrett has taken over the role of chief executive, while Grove retains the presidency.
Barrett introduces himself with a quote from an early guru of computing who was rash enough to say that in the future factories will be run by a man with a dog. The dog would be there to guard the site, while the man would be there to feed the dog. Fast forward to today, and Barrett shows a cartoon of two dogs at a computer. One is telling the other: “On the Net, everyone knows you’re a dog.”
So be it, but the fact is that in a few years Internet commerce will grow exponentially over the next few years. Business will have a choice, says Barrett: either take advantage of the Net, or ignore it at their own peril. For those wishing to enter the world of Net commerce, size is not significant. “Little companies can act like big companies, big companies like little companies,” he says. “Anyone can play”.
Barrett introduces film showing a company, presumably in New York, selling vegetables door-to-door over the Net. Then he introduces a fictitious company showing how a bicycle company could order components over the Net, using 3-D graphical analysis to show which supplier is best and most reliable.
“Visual acuity is very important,” Barrett tells the crowd as he plugs the graphical capability and speed of Intel’s latest PC technology.
The way Barrett sees it, Intel’s future systems will extend from low-cost basic PCs to high-end eight-way servers bundled together with high-speed backbones to provide an infinitely expandable source of computing power. For smaller companies with five to 25 employees and no chief information officer, plug and play will play an important role.
Graphics performance will be hugely enhanced by faster level 2 caches and improvements in bus technology. The new AGP Pro bus technology, with direct access to system memory, will offer a fourfold improvement over current PCI speeds.
Barrett introduces a demonstration of a virtual tour of a gallery, one with an AGP Pro bus offering colour blending and smoothing of textures, the other without. The difference is clear. AGP Pro bus speeds will go from 500Mbit/s to 1Gbit/s as the technology is improved, he says.
As for servers, Barrett says they will become commodity products, much like PCs. They will be easily scalable to meet any need, and e-commerce will require greater numbers of them - for databases, for firewalls, for e-commerce, for authentication, for legacy systems, for billing, and for proxy sites. Intel predicts a 29% growth in server demand against 10% by IDC and 15% by Dataquest.
Barrett expresses some concern about networking in the future. Big companies will be able to afford bandwidth, he says, but smaller companies might not find it so easy. The answer lies in technologies such as ADSL, high-speed networking over copper to provide enough speed to feed sophisticated graphics for “visual computing”.
The bottom line: If you want your company and your economy to be competitive, you must invest in the Net. It’s not a luxury, he says. Intel’s hopes obviously lie in supplying the raw horsepower to turn your investments into profit.
Asked for his view on thin clients, Barrett confirms there are 30 million dumb terminals and point-of-sale systems in the market. In his view, a sub-$US1000 PC will provide new flexibility for users of these systems and take the wind out of the network computer’s sales. He does not explain how the sub-$1000 PC will solve ongoing cost of ownership issues.
On the question of year 2000 compatibility, Barrett says the problem is principally a legacy issue. Intel will spend $US50 million to $US100 million to ensure its compliance.
On the question of palmtop computers and other products such as set-top devices and WebTV, Barrett acknowledges the importance of the StrongARM architecture for which Intel acquired rights after its purchase of Digital Equipment’s fabrication business. Meanwhile, notebook computers will become thinner and lighter.
Asked about the US Department of Justice antitrust battle with Microsoft, Barrett says he has no idea of the likely outcome. However, he says Intel is unlikely to get into a similar battle with the DOJ. Companies the size of Microsoft have to play be a different set of rules, he says. “It’s a big, aggressive company and it plays hardball.”
Barrett is reticent when it comes to talking about the possibility of investing Down Under. But he emphasises that Intel has a large venture capital fund and is willing to look at all suggestions from around the world.