Intel will mark its 35th birthday on Friday, but
about 200 employees gathered on the front lawn of the company's Santa Clara,
California campus this Tuesday to mark the anniversary by burying a time
capsule containing, amongst other things, an Itanium 2 processor, chopsticks
donated by Intel's Malaysian subsidiary, and a copy of Time Magazine featuring
Intel co-founder and Chairman Andy Grove on the cover.
In attendance at the ceremony was another of Intel's founders, Gordon Moore,
who served as the company's chief executive officer from 1975 to 1987 and is
best known as the creator of Moore's Law, which predicts that the number of
transistors on a computer chip will double every two years. Though Moore says
it took years before he could even refer to his idea as "Moore's Law", the maxim
has proved to be a remarkably accurate predictor of the computer industry's
growth since it was coined in 1965.
In this interview, Moore discusses the amount of life left in his famous
maxim, whether or not Intel should follow Microsoft and drop employee stock
options, and whether or not Intel's x86 processors will still be around when
the company digs up its time capsule 15 years from now.Moore's Law
IDG News Service: How long will Moore's law remain in
Gordon Moore: The thing that's been driving it (since it was
formulated in 1965) is the ability to make things smaller and smaller, and
eventually the fact that the materials are made of atoms is a real limit. We've
started seeing quantum mechanical effects even in the devices we're making now.
I think we've got two or three more generations, moving in the same path we've
been on. Then we'll have to change.
We can make bigger chips. It may not be at quite the breathtaking pace it's
been so far--something that doubles every four years instead of every two years
is still almost unprecedented. It will slow down. It depends on a lot of
factors that are hard to predict. It depends a lot on investment. A lot of
investment is a lot easier in a growing market than it is in a flat market. I
expect the market will continue to grow, but these things are all tied
IDGNS: So, even assuming that we slow down to a doubling of
transistors every four years, where will that growth come from?
Moore: I think we could just make bigger chips. We could put
more stuff onto bigger chips. There are a lot of continuing opportunities
there. Once you give the engineers a billion-transistor budget and tell them to
design something useful, they've got a lot of flexibility.Taking Stock
IDGNS: Microsoft recently elected to stop issuing stop issuing
employees stock options, a decision that has been called the end of an era. Do
you see that as a sign of a fundamental change in the industry?
Moore: I don't agree with that. It may solve some of
Microsoft's problems, but I wouldn't consider it a bellwether change in the
industry at all.
IDGNS: Do you think Intel should implement a similar
Moore: Not specifically what they do, no.
IDGNS: You don't see the idea of options becoming obsolete,
once a company becomes a certain size?
Moore: No, I don't. Options versus restricted stock is a
trade-off. We like to treat it one way. Microsoft, for very specific reasons,
decided to treat it a different way.
IDGNS: So you don't see that we'll be looking at the 1990s as
the era of the option, as if stock options were a passing fad?
Moore: In my view, in some places, the option things got
terribly abused. I don't think Intel was one of them. I hope the abuse goes
away. Options are a very reasonable way to motivate employees. You tie their
eventual rewards to company performance.Looking Ahead
IDGNS: The x86 architecture is now about 25 years old. Did you
expect it to last this long?
Moore: It's really evolved considerably over that 25 years.
We've added a lot of stuff. We took advantage of essentially all the new
inventions of the computer architects and academic communities. It carries some
baggage, but the baggage is not that bad. That baggage lets us run all the
historical applications, which is really an important thing.
I think it's going to be around for a long, long time. It's hard for me to
envision circumstances that would be appropriate to abandon it right now. If
somebody made completely hardware-independent software, maybe. But then you'd
still have to go back and take the tens of thousands of programs, the legacy
stuff, and convert them. I don't think that's going to happen. I think the
compatibility is such a powerful asset for the typical user, it's going to keep
the Intel architecture around for the foreseeable future.
IDGNS: Its success seems to be, in part, holding back Intel's
own Itanium processor.
Moore: They are really aimed at different markets.
really doesn't depend much on legacy software, and it really is a
big-machine-oriented architecture. It may find its way onto the desktop too, If
people really want to go that way, but I'm a little skeptical. We'll have to
wait and see.
IDGNS: How much longer will x86 be around? Do you think it will
last another 25 years?
Moore: It will still be around when we dig up the time