Rupert Goodwins' IDF Diary

Thursday 9/9/2004Last day and for many of those attending IDF, traditionally the tastiest. Chief technical officer Pat Gelsinger is the chap in charge of Intel's crystal ball, and this is the time he gets to give it a good rub in public.

Thursday 9/9/2004
Last day and for many of those attending IDF, traditionally the tastiest. Chief technical officer Pat Gelsinger is the chap in charge of Intel's crystal ball, and this is the time he gets to give it a good rub in public. Normally there's some pretty spiffing gadgetry involved, with enough test equipment on stage to restart the Apollo missions. Yet as we take our seats beneath the Sun of the Crashed Spectrum, the stage is bare. There's a desktop display in one corner, and a couple of comfy chairs in the other.

On strides Gelsinger, looking chipper enough. He launches into a folksy anecdote about what he was up to 35 years ago. The crowd murmurs, dangerously. He's up to something. But what?

Then onto the stage springs a dapper figure in a neat white Sigmund Freud beard, a well-fitting grey three-piece suit, and a curious nearly transparent boom mike. It's Vint Cerf, one of the inventors in 1969 of what would become TCP/IP -- and widely regarded as the founding father of the Internet.

It's hard to relate what the appearance does of this by-now mythical figure in front of an audience of geeks so Net-savvy that packets long ago replaced testosterone in their blood. There's the noise of 5,000 people simultaneously catching their breath, and for a second I'm worried that the crowd is going to leap up and surge forward onto the stage. Vint and Pat settle down in the comfy chairs and have a nice gossip about times past, times present and what's to come -- but I don't suppose it matters. They could be talking about growing tomatoes and swapping knitting patterns: for this lot, one of the Great Ones has descended. Perhaps Neil Armstrong could have beaten the buzz, but he'd have to have turned up in his working clothes.

By now, Gelsinger could have announced that Intel was getting into worm farming and the reaction would have been positive. Instead he launches into a description of the Internet of tomorrow and the company's Planet Lab testbed, where hundreds of computers around the world keep an eye on the Net and decide how to do things like route video, stomp on viruses and for all I know swap recipes for risotto. The crowd is lapping it up. At one point, British Petroleum is brought into play as an Intel partner who tests things like remote monitoring -- and then the camera zooms into a face in the auditorium. It's Lord Brown, group CEO of BP, who promptly gets a round of applause for being a lord like the War of Independence never happened. Still, he's got an awful lot of oil. You can forgive a touch of feudalism for that, right?

There are some interesting demos and some rousing speeches, but nobody cares much. We've seen Vint Cerf, and we've got something to tell our grandchildren. I've often noticed how Gelsinger has the ability to leave the audience punching the air with stuff that on cold retrospection seems more mundane than magical, but he's surpassed himself this time.

The rest of the day is typically anticlimactic. One by one, the journalists scamper back to the airport for this or that flight; gangs of builders start carrying the bones of the show out through the Moscone Centre's airy atrium and PRs sign off the last bar bills. Me, I'm staying on for a couple of days in San Francisco.

Research, y'know.

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