Is Intel Going Hollywood?

by Doc Searls

Linux was designed originally for the X86 platform. One of the core legacies of that platform was its openness. Will that legacy last?

Last month in Saving the Net, I sounded a warning about the carriers' threats to restrict the flow of "content" in the Net, to serve their own purposes, as well as those of the "content industry".

Now Intel is not only pushing Viiv as a new platform, but launching a new branding strategy, substituting "leap ahead" for its "intel inside" slogan. Both signal a re-alignment with the content industry, and a shift of core mareting interest away from the computer industry. Are they changing sides, from Silicon Valley to Hollywood?

Those sides are real. Just a ask Professor Lessig.

In PR pushes like this one (believe me, the timing and messages here are highly orchestrated), you have to read between the lines. Let's start with BusinessWeek's January 9 cover story, where we have this:

...the famous Pentium brand will be slowly phased out. In its place: a troika of brands, two of them freshly minted. Viiv (rhymes with "alive") is the name of a new chip for home PCS, designed to replace your TiVo (TIVO ), stereo, and, potentially, cable or satellite set-top box. It will be able to download first-run movies, music, and games, and shift them around the home. Intel also will launch a set of notebook PC chips under the three-year-old Centrino brand, as well as so-called dual-core chips, which will put two processor cores on one sliver of silicon. The new brand "Core" will be put on products that don't meet the specifications of the Viiv or Centrino platforms. The effort is winning high-profile support. On Jan. 10, Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL ), which has never used Intel's chips before, is expected to be one of the first companies to offer products with the dual-core chips.

In a related interview, Intel CEO Paul Otellini says this about Apple and Viiv:

Apple really brings to the Intel family of customers is their innovation. They [have an] ability to not just mix hardware and software, which is unique, but also to drop software upgrades rather frequently to take advantage of hardware changes....

[When it comes to design], they are a front-runner -- people copy some of their design elements. I believe as they start taking advantage of some of our lower-power will drive a trend toward smaller, cheaper, cooler...

I actually think Viiv is a world changer. Independent of the hardware as it evolves, it's DRM-agnostic, but it protects everything. It allows you to move things in a free fashion, but still maintain the desire of the content owners to get paid for what they do. It will change the business models of entertainment and theaters and Hollywood, and it will be for the benefit of consumers.

Looks to me like the content business is getting the platform it wants, from a company that very much wants to be its partner.

One grace of the "Wintel" platform over the last fifteen years has been a wide opening for Linux to grow, first as an alternative OS, and then as the mainstream standard -- at least for servers. Will it have the same advantages when Intel's primary partners are in the consumer electronics (Apple included) rather than the PC industry?

Given my exchange with Paul Otellini at PC Forum three years ago (when he weaseled about the reasons why Centrino was released without Linux device drivers), I'm not optimistic about the prospects -- at least where end user devices are concerned. Servers, again, are another matter.

But I know there is plenty of open source and Linux advocacy inside Intel (pun intended).

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out in the next two weeks, first at CES, and then at Macworld, where Steve Jobs is sure to unveil new Intel-based gear in his keynote on January 10.

I'll be at both shows.

And I'll take your questions with me. Put them in the comments section below.