At its CES-opening keynote, Intel laid bare its vision for computing in the future. If Microsoft is remembered for the once quixotic goal of ‘a computer on every desk,’ Intel has taken up the mantle of ‘a computer in every thing.’
Touting new hardware, new computing chips, and operating system agnosticism, Intel talked its way through gaming, sensors, smart gadgets, and more to draw the picture of its take on what is next for the technology industry.
At the core of its view is the idea of ‘smart,’ which is to say a regular item made intelligent through a firm dose of computing power. Its catalyst for this trasmorgification is the Edison, a full computer the size of an SD card. Available in the middle of this year, the Edison runs Linux, and can bring the power of computing into a plethora of new environments.
During its keynote, Intel showed off a few gadgets of its own provenance that contained roughly the same charisma as a bucket of warm spit; contained therein: an awkward headset more fit for a failed Star Trek competitor, a bowl that charged your devices in an unexplained manner, and a watch that did something.
But what Intel has in mind is the introduction of computing power everywhere, a fabric of intelligence woven into your daily life to quantify and understand and react and control your world. If you are even slightly chart-inclined, this is a future of information at the ready of a scale you can scarcely imagine.
I would love to know the impact of my morning coffee on my heart rate provided a set of conditions from the previous night. If I was out late, does a four or five shot latte provide the best morning boost? What about the post-caffeine crash? Surely this could be looked into if the devices and brains that were integrated into my life became intelligent enough to tally their own scores, and, this is key, talk to the rest of my life’s trinkets.
And here we’ve come to it: You can’t create an endemic layer of sensor technology that needs to speak to its cohort in harmony, and intelligently enough to draw and explain inferences thereof without a set of firmware intelligent enough to keep the whole game in the air.
And the Edison runs Linux.
We’re in a slightly post-PC era in that the venerable PC in its desktop and laptop formats is losing ascendancy in certain use categories to tablets and other SKUs across old school computing needs. But what Intel is drawing is a future in which the very core fabric of our digital lives will be the passive collating of data, and in its view Windows is nowhere in sight. How can you run Windows on microcomputers that retail for a fraction of the cost of Windows to an OEM building a new PC?
And as you expect, the Edison contains an application store, and supports what Intel awkwardly called “app store programming.” So this is another potential oxygen leak for Microsoft’s yet nascent Windows 8.x operating system.
The Edison is not out yet, its market impact yet demonstrated, and its vision just that, an untested potential, but Intel has plans: A million dollar-plus competition is in the works that will see developers walk away with six-figure checks for the best use of the Edison.
Ironically, the company in the best position to state that new hardware well-suited for hacking leads to developer interest is Microsoft itself, who had great success with its Kinect sensor in the homebrew community.
Your Platform, My Platform
The WinTel era is not over, but it’s certainly no longer the titanic force that it once was. Before, when Windows and Intel were lashed together, dominating the personal computing market as a duo full of vigor and vim, there was symbiosis.
Now that Windows is seeing its device volume decline, and rival platforms such as Android laptops and Chrome-based netbooks eat at its device points, Intel is, not surprisingly, looking to new pastures.
The company did mention Windows in its keynote, but pivoted quickly to a discussion about its forthcoming Windows and Android dual operating system platform. I don’t think the venture has much in the way of legs, but the idea is simple: Bring users the platforms that already have the apps they want. And if Windows is going to lag its rivals, so be it.
This is, of course, a new blurring of the lines between the traditional and the mobile computing worlds, a trend that Microsoft is itself pressing with its Windows 8.x platform and shared Windows core that extends a similar user interface from desktops to tablets to phones to your television.
Towards the end of its talk, Intel brought Steam on stage to show off its Steam Machine hardware, which brings games into your living room. It’s a direct threat to the Xbox, in other words. The Steam rep was more than effusive about Intel. Oh, and Steam Machines run SteamOS, which is based on Linux.
So, Intel today was on about Linux and Android more than it was about Windows and other Microsoft products. For such a longstanding ally to doodle a picture of the future that all but excludes Microsoft is no subtle move.
Intel will continue to sell billions of dollars in chips to power PCs each year, but it is certainly not tying itself to the past. We already knew nearly all of this, but it’s important to note that even that those closest to Microsoft’s soul — Windows — are aware of its current weaknesses.
So, onward in the view of Intel, towards a smart world, where every object no matter how small is intelligent. Where Microsoft fits into that currently only has a single apparent answer in Intel’s future: It doesn’t.
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