The Day Ahead: Scenes from Intel's e-business lovefest

Is it back to the 80s with Intel and Huey Lewis and the News? Or did we catch a glimpse of the 'new, new computer industry'?

Commentary: If you listened to Intel execs pitch at its eXCHANGE e-business summit this week, you'd think officials were abducted by solution-happy e-business aliens, who were hell-bent on ushering the "new, new computer industry".

Here are a few snippets from the event.

One thing that became increasingly clear during Intel's e-business solution fest is the chipmaker's reach via investments.

About half of the exhibitors in Intel's e-business showcase have received funding from the chip giant. Some of these companies have had some eye-popping IPOs, which goes along way toward explaining Intel's big investment gains.

So why is Intel so big on e-business? It's about selling Intel's high end chips, most of which aren't shipping. During each keynote, references were made to Intel's Itanium chip line, which promises to change the world -- when it actually ships. Intel touted the coming of the "new, new computer industry" that will reach $8tn by 2020.

In Intel's world, computing power is at the center of the e-business revolution. In this new world, Intel chief executive Craig Barrett says "solutions" at least once a minute and the chip giant's fingerprints are everywhere.

For Selectica), an Intel investment enabled the company to optimise its Internet selling software to run better on all platforms. Intel's cash was nice too.

For Ariba, Intel's Itanium chips will mean the company can expand its B2B software to more customers. Ariba, which can run its software any platform, began by focusing on Fortune 100 companies, which meant optimising for Unix.

Ariba wasn't alone in its praise of Intel's Itanium, due in the first half of 2001. The company's booth was perched next door to competitors Oracle and Commerce One, as well as partner I2 Technologies.

Most of these B2B players went after the big customers first. That's changing as customers down the food chain plan Windows 2000 and Itanium transitions. "Itanium will really help our adoption rates," said one Ariba rep.

Even Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina couldn't refrain from the Intel commercials. She called the Itanium the biggest technical shift facing information technology. Calling the Itanium technology's latest, greatest thing is a reach. Fiorina put Itanium ahead of open source technology such as Linux and the move toward service-based computing. Itanium may the real deal, but I wouldn't rank it that high.

Intel could talk solutions, e-business and the new era in computing, but it couldn't escape its falling stock price. Shares have been hammered since Intel's third quarter profit warning. Meanwhile, rival AMD delivered great results.

During Barrett's keynote, CyberCorp chief executive Philip Berber illustrated how his company's software was running its trading software on Intel's latest chips.

Barrett said he was "almost afraid to ask" about the stock price and to no-one's surprise it was down. Berber noted that he thought Intel was a screaming buy and asked Barrett for advice. "I think the SEC would put me in jail if I said anything," quipped Barrett, referring to Intel's quiet period ahead of its earnings. Barrett later said Wall Street was overreacting about Intel's profit warning.

Nevertheless, Berber bought shares with "live money in my account". Of course, the Itanium pitch wasn't forgotten. The spikes in volatility and trading volume would naturally need Intel processors to keep up.

Optimism abounded at Intel's e-business shindig, but there weren't many details to back up the bullish outlook.

With most companies reporting earnings in the next two weeks, most officials were relegated to terms such as "business is looking good" and "we're comfortable with expectations".

Selectica chief executive Rajen Jaswa knew the drill. He couldn't say much about his company's financial results, which will be reported 17 October, but hit some key points.

"Once Y2K ended, all the IT spending went to e-business," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of our customers are brick-and-mortar and they're all investing in this for basic business functions. E-business applies to everybody. We're comfortable with our business."

Intel also provided a little entertainment with Huey Lewis and the News performing at a local club Wednesday night.

Nothing against Huey, but I had to wonder about the symbolism behind the choice, especially given the "new, new computer industry" chatter. Huey Lewis saw his hey-day in the late 80s and early 90s. "Kinda like Intel's chips," said one cynic.

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