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Intel Linux devices challenge MS – but at the server end

There's a whole pile of middleware being pointed at the service providers too...

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Analysis Intel's shiny new web appliances do indeed shun Windows in favour of Linux, but a closer examination of Intel's strategy makes it clear that this is the least of the headaches Chipzilla is presenting its 'ally' Microsoft with. Aside from building a range of cheap, Intel-branded access devices the company is proposing to challenge Microsoft in a whole range of key areas, and the battlefield is going to be software, not chips. Intel describes its "Web appliance strategy" as consisting of three components. First of all there are the appliances themselves, intended to be used "to bring the Internet to new devices in the home," according to Claude Leglise, general manager of the Intel Home Products Group. These will indeed run Linux on Celeron processors, but considering their nature that's neither here nor there; they're intended to be dependent on remote applications and management capabilities (maybe they're really, ahem, NCs...) so it's perfectly possible to plug in kit based on other hardware and other software. Intel itself has produced appliances using VXWorks, for example, while even Microsoft has started to sound more agnostic about client operating systems - really, as both companies understand, the money's going to be upstream of this, at the server end. The red light must have started flashing and the klaxon sounding at Fort Redmond when they got to the next part of the Intel strategy: Intel will be providing "appliance management capabilities." This is of course server software stuff, and doesn't have anything to do with chips per se. More alarm signals will have been generated by component three, "services packages building blocks." Intel is proposing to put together solutions that do pretty much what Microsoft has been proposing to do; "work with other companies that [sic - shocking editing standards in Intel documentation] will provide applications and content for the Intel Web appliance," and to "assist service providers in developing service offerings." Put like that the Intel offering could be interpreted as being more a case of corralling various other companies in order to put together packaged solutions for service providers, but it becomes rather more specific, rather more Intel-specific, further on: "Intel further plans to provide service and telecom providers with server software based on standard management technologies to enable cost-effective remote support of the Intel web appliances, and other Internet access devices." Intel isn't specific about the kinds of server software it will be offering here and where it will get it, but as Microsoft is not noisily jumping for joy in tandem with the Intel announcement, Solaris and/or Linux might seem a more reasonable educated guess than NT. Note also that those "other Internet access devices" are likely to include mobile phones, particularly as one of the alliances Intel has announced in association with the Web appliance master plan is with Infospace, which is heavily involved in delivering services to wireless devices, and which is also allied with... Microsoft. According to Intel the first wave of appliance systems, due out by mid-year, are intended to integrate Internet access with telephony features such as call management and unified messaging. Deals with Telcordia (formerly Belcore) and Lucent will support this, and Intel and Lucent are developing a unified messaging system for sale to service providers. Again, this is clearly Microsoft's turf. And: "Future products will also enable retailers to offer e-commerce services to consumers." That implies packages consisting of appliances, server software and server applications supplied by Intel (or at least complete packages put together under Intel's auspices) to financial and retail outlets. Two other alliances Intel announces however make it clear this is close to becoming reality. In Japan NEC "plans to sell it to banking companies, application service providers as a financial terminal and as a home service terminal, starting mid-2000." Meanwhile in France "LASER-Galeries Lafayette Group has selected Intel's Web appliance products to provide personalised e-commerce services to consumers across Europe." Considering LASER-Galeries Lafayette announced a huge e-commerce provision deal with IBM in the middle of last year, this one isn't exactly good news for Microsoft either. Galeries Lafayette, incidentally, is a tres chic French retail operation which broke new ground last year by filling one of the windows of its flagship Boulevard Haussman store in Paris with svelte (live) models in their underwear. Representatives of less chic nations should not try this at home, but it suggests that the group may have the odd killer USP when it comes to appealing to consumers on the web. Live models in bunny suits? No, we think not... ® Earlier story: Celerons and Linux to power Intel Web appliances Register told you so department: Intel appliance strategy means war with MS

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