Rupert Goodwins' IDF Diary

Wednesday 18/02/2004Today's keynote is more of the same. Mike Fister, manager of Enterprise Platforms, has grown a rather exciting Mexican Bandito moustache.

Wednesday 18/02/2004
Today's keynote is more of the same. Mike Fister, manager of Enterprise Platforms, has grown a rather exciting Mexican Bandito moustache. He gives a sterling performance promoting Itanium, only slightly miffed when Kevin Kettler, CTO of Dell, comes on and talks animatedly about those pesky 64-bit extensions and how they'll be in Dell products by the end of the year. Boy, how he goes on. And on.

It's all too much. "Say something about Itanium, Kevin," commands Fister.

"I've written my notes on my hand," says Kettler, "and I've got Itanium on my pinky." The moustache twitches, and one gets the feeling that "Take back what you said about my mother, Gringo" is not far from the surface. But all is well.

Next up is the spellcheck-defying Anand Chandrasekher, man in charge of mobile platforms. Intel has many engineers from around the globe, often with names requiring 64-bit extensions of their own, and it's quite fun to compare the 'official' nicknames that they give each other in public and on Powerpoint slides with the more informal versions that circulate after hours. Anand, who at least when I meet him wears his official status lightly and with good grace, is referred to as Kulashaker and Chunkyjumper at various times by various people. He too has follicular issues -- on his official bio page, he sports a luxurious rug of lustrous hair: on stage, he has a brutal crew cut. The reason, he explains from the off, is that he promised his team that if they hit target with Centrino sales he'd have his head shaved. It's been a good year for notebooks, and a bad one for executive hairstyles.

Later that day, I suggest to another Intel bod that they should encourage Fister to do the same with his Dirty Sanchez facial fungus, should he hit his target of making Itanium as cheap as Xeon but twice as fast. "My god. If only," is the unexpected response. On consideration, I think I like a company where the senior officers are free to behave with such tonsorial irresponsibility -- let's leave the hundred-dollar haircuts to the white shirts and sharp suits of the East Coast.

Chandrasekher gives a good show nonetheless, demoing a wide variety of wireless and mobile gadgets and fearlessly promoting the new Dothan chip despite the fact it's now so late even Intel's stopped pretending. There's a huge array of laptops on shelving at the back of the stage all displaying the Centrino logo -- are these the new army of Dothan? Not quite: they're all "Dothan ready". But it will be here soon -- a bug caught at the last stage of design verification, is all he'll say -- and the inevitable 'When will it be 64-bit?' question is batted aside with panache. Alas, the demos don't all go to plan -- another traditional IDF entertainment -- but some are simply puzzling. It's very commendable that Intel has managed to find a real live 17-year-old with a guitar who's prepared to come on at eight in the morning and talk about using technology to learn music, but between the lad's West Coast dudular incoherence and the computer's sullen refusal to do what he wanted, we're not much the wiser.

The show feels very different from previous times, and after a while mulling this over in the bar the UK hack contingent has it sussed: in the past, it's been concentrated in one place, this time it's dissipated between floors of the conference centre and other venues. We're being more carefully managed this time too: in the past, the press has been encouraged to go along to the Meet The Engineers party on the second day of the forum. This time, we're invited to a bash at Dolby Labs and not told about the engineers. Not that one wishes to be churlish; Dolby is one of Intel's new friends and is involved in getting the audio side of PCs up to professional standards, and there's plenty to talk about, but one gets the feeling that someone inside has decided it's not such a good idea to let the engineers drink lots of beer in the company of people who might write about what they say.

Still, there are always the sessions: presentations to the engineering community by Intel's own R&D teams. As usual these prove enlightening. I concentrate on wireless, and in stark contrast to the feeling we get from the official press activities there seems to be a willingness on the part of the presenters to be more frank about areas where the company is still having a lively internal debate. Following on from Pat Gelsinger's "Radio Free Intel" announcement last spring, the company has got very serious about pushing wireless standards with much attention paid to stuff still in the "we really don't know how we're going to do it" stage. This shows: the engineers giving the talks discuss the issues, cover the pros and cons of each approach and are refreshingly non-didactic about what the end results will be.

At the end of the day, I'm much more tired than usual: normally by now I'm in full swing, and bail out of the evening's activities. But then a friend calls and it would be churlish to go all this way and not catch up, and she knows this great bar in Mission with walls covered in stuffed animals, a heady mix of 70s and 80s punk, new wave and Dean Martin on the juke box, and a bloke who skateboards from seat to seat. A perfect way to balance the day.