Intel CEO Paul Otellini unveiled his vision for the future at the chipmaker's annual developer conference in San Francisco this week. Not surprisingly, that vision is one of x86 -- or IA (Intel architecture), as the company prefers to call it -- everywhere. From desktop PCs to servers and even to mobile phones and televisions, if Intel has its way soon every device will be an IA device.
Mind you, let's not kid ourselves. The near-total dominance of IA for desktop computing has been a market reality for some time now. Remember Transmeta? The whole point of its revolutionary "code morphing" technology was to allow its unique, low-power chip designs to execute IA instructions seamlessly -- because any new chip design that couldn't run Windows would be a nonstarter.
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The question is, do we really want Intel to extend its dominance even further, to include phone handsets and other consumer electronics? A world where every CPU speaks Intel's language would be a boon to Intel, certainly. But whether such a processor monoculture would benefit customers is an entirely different matter.
Sort of like Java, only not as good
The crux of Intel's plan is to offer a range of IA chip designs, each tailored for a different category of devices. The promise that developers can "write once, run anywhere" has been a major selling point of the Java platform; Intel's position is that it can deliver on that same promise, only without the middleman. Any IA chip can execute code for the x86 instruction set, just like any JVM on any OS can execute Java bytecode. But unlike the JVM, binaries for the IA platform run on the bare CPU, with no performance degradation and no need for a virtual machine or a JIT (Just-In-Time) compiler.