Too hot in Palm Springs to be cold comfort farm
Internal debate between Chipzilla blackshirts and blueshirts grows
Intel Developer Forum As the little United Express Brasilia prop flew over the mountain range separating the South California coast from the deserts within, two newsworthy items caught our attention. One British hack, sitting in a window seat, drew our attention to a vast bank of cloud that seemed to be covering the entire Coachella Valley. At the same time, the craft's stewardess said that it could be a tad turbulent flying into Palm Springs, once we'd crossed the San Jacinto mountain range. The "cloud", once we'd finished our extremely non-bumpy landing, turned out to be a vast forest fire raging in the hills, blotting out the sunset, and giving the feeling we might be witnessing the end of the world, as acrid pine smoke attacked our nostrils. Not the end of the world though, for Intel and its fifth Developer Forum. At its event last autumn, Dr Albert Yu told the developers that the Palm Springs convention centre had been booked as the venue for five years, because Intel had been offered a price it couldn't refuse. One year on, and IDF was much bigger than the last two events at Palm Springs The Register had attended. At his pre-show briefing to a gaggle of non-US press, senior VP Pat Gelsinger told us that there were more press than ever before, and more developers -- 2,700 in all. The press room was much bigger too. Intel moved it from the Andreas (Stiller?) room in the quite awful Wyndham Hotel to the strangely named Situation (Publishing?) night club, just down the corridor. And Intel's Showcase area was also much larger than we remembered, with a large area given over to the company's "e-home" and a much larger area given over to third party companies, complete with stands, clowns and other trade show paraphernalia. When the show opened on Tuesday morning, we were already aware that CEO Craig Barrett would use the occasion to demo Merced silicon, after having been tipped off by insiders just a few days before we flew from LHR to LAX. But Barrett, called by Gelsinger, Intel's "Great Dictator" had other things to say and show too. He pre-announced a 7xxx Coppermine for October, spent some time talking i820 Camino talk, and horsed around with the strangely designed Concept PCs which the chip company is touting. Barrett was also careful to include references to Intel as a building-block and Internet firm, a lead-in to the company's much leaked IXA architecture which was formally unveiled the next day. This whole razzamatazz atmosphere was clearly designed to play to the press, and the 450-strong contingent, including The Register, but not excluding The Wall Street Journal and just about every other important wire, newspaper and magazine, duly reported in varying levels of detail. Intel is, quite clearly, big IT news, and the week of the Forum saw its share price rise to a staggering $90. Staggering, because it had circled around the $40 mark round about the early June time frame. Despite the trade show atmosphere, The Register was a little puzzled as to why Intel was not pushing its Merced platform harder. Where, for example, were the bottles of champagne to welcome the new-born babe? True, there were many IA-64 tracks of greater or lesser complexity, but the world's press was, after all, in at the birth of what Intel sees as its spearhead in the lucrative server and Internet market for the next five years. The truth is, however, that understanding Intel's ways and means to profitability, is harder than ever before. It is involved in so many development projects, and has its fingers in so many pies, that it is harder than ever for it to get the right message across, to the right audience, at the right time. Even its core cash cow, its microprocessor business, is bewilderingly complex. It includes a vast legion of engineers, marchitects and a staggering array of products and up-and-coming products intended for notebooks, desktops and the server market. Add to that its chipset business, and the large number of PC specifications and initiatives that it is involved with, and the task of reporting and forecasting becomes a mammoth task. Sometimes, rebuked by its also-vast press relations team for getting a fact wrong, we are forced to say that considering it is Intel's 68,000 staff versus seven Register staff, we don't do too badly... During the week, Intel attempted to clarify its position on Rambus and the PC-133 memory standards, but our conclusion was that it ended up giving mixed messages here. Its decision to employ PC-133 in some of its future chipsets was widely seen as a grudging concession to its PC and motherboard OEMs. Many journalists were left in puzzlement after Intel Fellow, Peter MacWilliams, said that many people seemed to think PC-133 was better than PC-100 because 133 was a bigger number than 100. Some of us had thought Intel was in the business of saying bigger numbers were better than smaller numbers too, and after more of this, an exasperated Michael Slater, who started the influential Microprocessor Report, was heard to say: "And you call me cynical?". So is IDF now a trade show, rather than a serious forum for serious developers? We had to have a conversation with an Intel blackshirt rather than an Intel blueshirt, to clarify this position. We had already noticed that some, a large minority, of Intel employees were wearing black rather than blue sports shirts, and had concluded that perhaps these staff were behind-the-scenes people, looking after logistics and the like. That's not so. At the gruesome and rather rough Village Pub in downtown Palm Springs, we had occasion to find ourselves in conversation with a senior Intel chappie, wearing a black sports shirt. We won't name him, because he is a rather senior chappie and he was buying us a beer in an informal, off-the-record stuation. Plus, he was very friendly and well-aware we were press. At The Register it is our policy to stiff people only by accidie, that is on purpose. We asked him whether IDF was, indeed, turning into a trade show. He replied that it would be over his dead body. He explained that without the vast support of Intel developers, it would be impossible for the machine to function. However, he did reveal that there was a movement inside Intel to further turn the Forum into a jamboree, which he, and others, were firmly resisting. Flying out of the Coachella Valley, again on a United Express Brasilia prop aircraft, we noticed the faint smell of old sick in the cabin. Possibly, this was the craft which we had heard about the day before. It had experienced so much turbulence flying into Palm Springs airport that two stewardesses were knocked out when their heads hit the ceiling. It's a rough old business... ® La Registra fact "The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the largest vertical cable rise in the United States and the second largest in the world. A trip to the Tram's 8,516 foot Mountain Station is two and one-half miles traveled in less than 15 minutes. As you ascend magnificent Mt. San Jacinto, you will experience five different life zones with flora and fauna approximating a trip from Mexico's warm Sonoran Desert to the alpine wilderness of Alaska. Whatever the season, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will lift your spirits all year long with fresh mountain air, a wide variety of activities, and spectacular views..." A little like Intel, in fact.