Where is Linux on Intel's desktop and laptop roadmap?

And what are the real stories on LaGrande, Trusted Computing, Viiv and Intel's DRM support?

Back in November, 2003, I wrote The Real Battle at Comdex: Intellectual Property vs. Internet Protocol, as one in my series of reports for Linux Journal from what turned out to be the last Comdex trade show in Las Vegas. Looking at that piece again gives me a weird kind of deja vu. "I had a brief conversation with John Perry Barlow", I reported. "He said one of his biggest concerns was Intel's new LaGrande technology, which creates a way to embed supply-controlled DRM in what will likely become more than 90% of the world's computers".

Then I excerpted some of a report on what Intel was saying at the time about LaGrande:

LaGrande is all about creating a safer computing environment.

If we are going to enable convergence, if we are going to enable the promise of e-Business, we have to be able to have a more secure environment here. Hardware-based strengthening to this is critical.

LaGrande delivers a hardware-based foundation for security. It includes protected execution, protected memory, and protected storage.

It will be delivered into the marketplace through our processors and our chipsets working together to create a secure hardware environment....

It's a core technology that things like the Microsoft Palladium initiative can take advantage of to build much more stable platforms.

In other words, hardware-based DRM. On Windows.

More background:

So, back to the present.

Right now I'm writing a report on this year's CES and Macworld shows, which took place earlier this month. Both before and during CES, I devoted a lot of curiosity to Intel's latest DRM-friendly platform-building material, a "technology" called Viiv. (That last link goes to the company's flashy BS site. Here is a more informative — though still promotional — product page.)

Two pieces — Is Intel Going Hollywood? and On the Front Lines in Las Vegas — were both written in anticipation of the Viiv announcement. The next piece, What's Intel up to with VIIV? was my live report from the scripted keynote where Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini rolled Viiv out. On hand to help with the keynote were Michael Dell and various Intel spokesmanagers. Conspicuously absent was anybody from the Win side of the 'tel partnership that Viiv would be kinda pointless without.

Several days later, as I had expected, Paul Otellini made a "surprise" appearance at Steve Jobs' Macworld keynote. To the relief of many, it looked like the new Intel-based Macs would be based on the Intel's new Core™ Duo cpus, and not on Viiv. Perhaps this is one reason why news followed that Red Hat intended to bring Linux to the new Apple hardware.

Since CES and Macworld, Viiv buzz has dropped back down to the noise level. A search for Viiv on Technorati shows 50+ posts per day happening several times in December, before hitting almost 350 during CES, then trailing off to the just three posts in English during the last 24 hours.

The last substantive post I found was There's more to Viiv..., posted on January 24 by Dan Ochiva on Millimeter, an active blog covering Hollywood's large production and postproduction industries. Following up on earlier coverage in Millimeter, Ochiva also sourced John Furrier's podcast interview with Intel's Rajeev Puran at Sundance, where Viiv's goods were on prominent display. About Viiv, Furrier says,

The consumer experience is elevated with increased gaming performance levels, a simpler end user set-up experience, a multitude of media options, and enhanced integration between hardware and software to form a simple "one remote" entertainment arena.

How do I get this box into my living room?

John thinks Viiv is cool. To me it's just another trap for OEMs and users — one among countless others rolled out at CES, in keeping with the old consumer electronics lock'em'up tradition. Even Larry Page of Google, in his own keynote at CES, introduced Google Video, a DRM'd search'n'sell system that only runs on Windows. This wasn't long after Larry busted the CE industry for making incompatible power supplies and component connectors.

So now I have some questions that I'm hoping ya'll can help me with. Here they are:

  • What happened to LaGrande? Is it now part of Viiv? Is it moving forward on its own? Is it tied only to Microsoft's Trusted Computing Platform?
  • Is the center of the open-vs.-closed debate moving below operating systems, to hardware? If so, what should we be arguing about?
  • Should we look for Linux-based hardware platforms to start flourishing, once it's clear that the entertaining alternatives from Microsoft and Apple are all not only closed, but incompatible? What positive help could we give Intel (or AMD) on that?
  • What are the other questions we should be asking here?

I'm a natural optimist when it comes to open systems. On the whole, they tend to win out, and to become base infrastructure. But it tends to take a long time.

I don't have a problem with closed and proprietary goods, so long as they aren't part of a base infrastructure that requires them. They should be able to compete and flourish in open and free infrastructural environments (such as the Net), and the markets that grow naturally on them. In other words, do all the DRM you like; just don't make it part of my hardware, my network, or my operating system.

I also have some history, way back, in the chip business. I know how roadmaps work. Companies like Intel have roadmaps that can go out a decade or more. What worries me about technologies like LaGrande and Viiv is that they may be part of a long-term roadmap that is masked by high-gloss marketing BS. I worry that there are roadmaps that close off options for Linux and other free and open technologies, while opening options for the likes of Microsoft and Apple. I am sure there are no anti-Linux roadmaps at Intel (or anywhere outside of Microsoft), but I can easily imagine roadmaps that favor "partners" in ways that could be to Linux's expense.

I want to be clear that we're talking about clients here. Desktops. Laptops. Handhelds. I have no doubt about Intel's pro-Linux orientation around servers and embedded systems.

Let's look forward.

If, five years from now, the only practical way we can watch videos, or listen to music, is on our choice of Apple or Microsoft DRM'd hardware, a huge battle will have been lost. One we should be fighting right now.

On the other hand, it could be that your-choice-of-silo will fail in the market we already have.

Either way we bet, we need to know more than we do right now.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Where is Linux on Intel's desktop and laptop roadmap?

cheap computers's picture

I know how roadmaps work. Companies like Intel have roadmaps that can go out a decade or more. What worries me about technologies like LaGrande and Viiv is that they may be part of a long-term roadmap that is masked by high-gloss marketing BS.

DRM is good, but no one will pay it

Anonymous's picture

DRM is good, and will make everyone happy except customer, so if there is an alternative solution, no customer will pay it. That's the real question! DRM is also good for linux popular, because linux will become the alternative solution.

We are all frogs (or toads, if you prefer)

Anonymous's picture

There's this anedoctal story about what happens if you put a frog in a pan with boiling water, causing the frog to jump immediately out of the pan. If you put the frog in a pan with cold water, and gradually warm it, the frog gets boiled.
So is the same for the case of user rights and tecnology! Gradually, key parts of the whole hardware/software enforcing scheme for "intelectual property" are being added, because there's plenty of money to be made there and none in user rights. It's not about security or "user experience", it's only about money.
Maybe I'm being pessimistic...

*This* is why we need the GPL

Anonymous's picture

Once again, Richard Stallman comes to our rescue. Yes, he's uncompromising with his principles and stubborn as hell. That's also why the GPL exists. It's also why we have a Free compiler so that we can actually write Free Software, free of restrictions, in the first place. His stubbornness to continue with GNU resulted in our favorite OS, GNU/Linux.

So, when you look at GPL 3, and if you're tempted to say, "Oh, Richard's just proselytizing again, why won't he just shut up," then you might want to reconsider the latter half of that thought. His "proselytization" is why we're here. It's why Linus licensed Linux under the GPL; Linus valued his, and others's, freedom.

I don't want any form of Treacherous Computing, or Digital Restrictions Management, on my computer. If it comes to it, I simply will refuse to purchase any DVD's or CD's. I'd rather be camping, enjoying the Smithsonian, taking in a live jazz concert, or exploring the vast nation that, thankfully, is mine to explore. There are *lots* of things to do other than just live in a plugged-in environment. Movies and CDs are nice, but not at the ultimate price that the MPAA, RIAA, Microsoft, Apple, and apparently now Intel as well, want us to pay.

I warmly agree

dukeinlondon's picture

I warmly agree

VIIV, LaGrande, iAMT

Wes Felter's picture

Until I see evidence to the contrary, I'm going to keep saying that VIIV 1.0 is nothing but a logo. We could waste a lot of time speculating about what's in VIIV 1.5 and 2.0, but it's pointless IMO since nothing is set in stone until it ships. If you really want to do some digging, download the Intel Viiv Technology Test Utility and see what it says.

Even better, if your PC doesn't have the VIIV logo you can still download the magic pixie dust from Intel.

"The Intel(R) Viiv(TM) Software Setup.exe installs Intel Viiv software version 1.0 files required by Intel Viiv technology-based PCs to enable content experience through Intel Viiv verified applications and services. The Intel Viiv verified applications and services use these files to enable capabilities unique to an Intel Viiv technology-based PC. This setup.exe file is not required for brand verification. Some Intel Viiv verified applications and services may not work as expected if the Intel Viiv Software Setup.exe files are not found on the Intel Viiv technology-based PC . This file is only intended to be used by OEMs/system integrators or trained support personnel."

Name one "Viiv verified application"; I dare you.

I would guess that LaGrande (LT) hardware is more or less ready to go, but Intel won't enable it until MS is ready to use it. (The same curious policy appears to apply to VT: it's in the Core Duo processor, but Intel refuses to enable it until after software is avaible that supports it.) But MS can't finish anything on time, especially complex stuff like Palladium (which seems to get redesigned every year). So LT won't be supported in Vista. The next version of Windows after Vista isn't due for years.

I am a little concerned that Intel is softening their stance about releasing hardware documentation. In particular, there appear to be no public docs for Intel Active Management Technology (iAMT), which can do some powerful stuff like remotely taking over a PC and reinstalling it. Is this because only "professionals" have a "need" for it and they can afford to sign the NDA?

Link shown above is incorrect

James Rhodes's picture

If you go to http://www.seacape.us/ and then go to the home page, you will see that Computer Hardware link is incorrect. The only page up right now is the Home page, as we are putting the final touches on the website for the release of our SeaScape computers. This will most likely happen by next Friday, as we are now testing the prototypes until Monday.

James Rhodes
President, SeaScape LLC

web site link wrong ;)

James Rhodes's picture

My brain is ahead of my fingers today... :)


Ever tried to buy a laptop running Linux?

mangoo's picture

After having hard time with trying to install Linux on Acer alptop (graphics not working, wifi card not working), I was looking for a laptop with Linux pre-installed.

Surprisingly, at least here in Europe, it's a really hard task to find one!

preloaded laptop

Anonymous's picture


Mandriva is pushing with the help of HP and Intel some preloaded laptop. So you could have a look to them at www.mandriva.com or request them through there website. They are certified and working perfectly and coming with 90 days support for free.

In India it is simple. Most

Basudeb's picture

In India it is simple. Most of the entry level Laptops come preloaded with Linux.

Linux preloaded laptops in India

KaruppuSwamy.T's picture

But these Indian laptops are loaded mostly with Redhat or Turbolinux without any post-install configuration. In many cases they just install the linux, not even rebooting the system after installation. They are not tested for hardware compatibility. They aim at selling the laptops without OS cost (obviously Windows), so that home user / SOHO loads pirated windows.