Intel's Grove on the myths of the Internet

Well, I'm finally off on the road again. Intel Semiconductor in Hong Kong has kindly invited me to meet up with what it claims is the largest gathering of Intel senior management to date in the Asia region.

I must confess I have never seen so many doctors from one company gather together at the same time: Dr Andy Grove, the president and CEO; Dr Albert Yu, the senior vice-president and general manager of the microprocessor group; and Dr Craig Barrett, executive vice-president and COO. I was looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, it had been so long since my last trip that I actually forgot to bring my tape recorder and had to scope out the streets of Wanchai to try to find myself a deal. Well, I managed to get a tape recorder. Unfortunately, I didn't get a deal.

I was not sure what to expect at the event since the schedule didn't really mention anything more than that Andy and the others would make a few speeches. It wasn't as if they were going to announce any new products here. "The Connected PC" as the title of the keynote address didn't really inspire great expectations since Compaq's Eckhard Pfeiffer usually offers similar speeches promoting the PC as the centre of the computing universe.

The speech started predictably enough with Andy talking about how far PCs have come, how fantastic multimedia was, and how Intel's fabulous processors are one of the driving forces behind the rise of multimedia and communications technology.

To prove his point, there was a 3D rendering demo reminiscent of Silicon Graphics as well as a live videoconferencing demo that perhaps would have been better left undone. It merely showed why videoconferencing has yet to take off. The video was sketchy and jerky at best and the sound mediocer. To be fair, it was a long-distance call to the United States.

Andy then went on to talk about the Internet as another driving force of technology and how it has jumped into prominence in recent years through the proliferation of Internet service providers (ISPs) and the advent of browser technology (not to mention the increased power of the PC), but then I guess you already knew that.

However, this set the stage for a couple of what he called myths of Internet computing, a concept first tabled by Oracle's Larry Ellison. The first myth was that browsers don't require processing power. He cited the fact that the current Netscape Navigator 2.0 was already one-third the size of Windows 95 and that the upcoming version 3.0 would be closer to half the footprint of Win95 -- a sizable piece of software indeed, which would be hard pressed to run on a thin client PC.

Next came the second myth of the Internet, which is that there is sufficient bandwidth on the Internet (or if not, there would be enough real soon) for multimedia and video applications. He supported this with the fact that it takes eight hours to download a video clip on a 28.8Kbit/s modem, whereas it takes only 10 to 15 seconds on a local storage device like hard disk or an 8-speed CD-ROM drive. (Or T3 lines, in case you were interested and could afford such things.)

Andy then went on to something interesting, a concept called hybrid applications. These, he says, would combine the need for connectivity to worldwide resources with the need for quick access and speedy computing. These would probably be multimedia encyclopedia type of applications (Andy cited Microsoft's Encarta as an example) that would be mainly stored locally or on the LAN, but incremental, updated information could be accessed via the Internet and would be done automatically according to user defined preferences.

Seems feasible, and definitely requires more computing power, something which Intel, not surprisingly, is keen to promote.

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