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Will Intel's Viiv thrive?

When PC into CE doesn't compute

We're sure Intel's marketing will be sufficiently full-on to convince plenty of folk they need a Viiv PC rather than a regular PC, but it's questionable whether it will win the company any more business than it would have gained anyway. Viiv will simply become the default.

Intel could have saved itself a lot of effort if it had simply decided not to call the platform a PC. It could have more tightly specified the form-factor, functionality and, conversely, been less restrictive about what system software it should have.

It's ironic that, when talking about form-factor, Intel Digital Home Group general manager Don MacDonald says "it's not Intel's job to be prescriptive", yet he's quite willing to foist exact operating system and hardware specifications on Viiv manufacturers.

There's no reason at all why living room systems can't be based on Intel processors, system logic and connectivity chips. But it's not necessary to claim that because they do, they are PCs.

TiVo's boxes are built around on IBM PowerPC chips running Linux. With the right firmware the could be Macs. So they're arguably as much personal computers as an Intel-based set-top box is, but TiVo isn't wedded to the PC concept and is free to pitch its product as a CE device, something consumers understand. When consumers think of PCs, they think of beige boxes sitting on desktops, or they think of notebooks. Plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests they don't think of consumer electronics-like equipment.

But Intel, it seems, can't bear the idea that it's platform is not a PC. It just has to mandate a Microsoft operating system, make the whole thing more complex and - yes, it's true - more functionally powerful than it needs to be.

The irony is, Intel accepts it's not a strong CE player. But every time it tries to be, it starts shaking and, to calm down, has to start talking about PCs again. Its solution is to try and position the PC as a CE device, but PCs are general-purpose devices and CE kit typically address just one or two applications.

There's no reason why a general-purpose device can't be used more narrowly - think of a Windows PC being used solely for email or IM. But to be truly ready to run a wide variety of tasks, a device needs sufficient processing power to run anything from Notepad to Photoshop, along with a sufficiently complex OS to manage everything. That inherently opens it up to all the threats Windows is heir to, and makes it complicated and thus difficult for non-technical consumers to master and maintain. That's the antithesis of CE.

Intel's cart-before-the-horse solution to spend money on software to dumb Windows down to the level of CE kit - essentially to bypass all the technology Microsoft puts in to make its OS more powerful. So much effort could be saved if Intel simply realised PC does not equal CE.

Intel should pursue the CE market aggressively, and it should do so with its x86 products. The current generation of Pentium 4 and Pentium D processors may not be suitable, but its next-generation microarchitecture has some very strong benefits for CE devices. It should - obviously - pursue the PC market too. There is plenty of room in consumers' so-called digital lives for both kinds of product. ®

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