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Innovation

Would the real Intel please stand up?

Intel is a company with a complex personality. That complexity must not hide disorder
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Written by Leader on

Virtualisation is the art of hiding the real beneath the apparent. A particular task may appear to be running on its own dedicated system carefully configured to its needs, but the physical truth is a more complex chunk of hardware shared between many potentially conflicting requirements.

As befits a modern processor company, Intel is expert in virtualisation. So much so, in fact, that it is in danger of applying the same techniques to its corporate image as it does to its silicon — a process far less suited to the commercial than the technological sphere.

For there are many different apparent Intels. There is the Intel that has helped educate more than a million teachers, and the one that has Nick Negroponte spitting feathers over alleged back-stabbing with the One Laptop Per Child project. There is the Intel which funds and promotes global open standards, and the one under investigation around the world for anti-trade practices towards its compatible competition. There is the Intel with teams of anthropologists learning everything they can about what people really need and really do, and the one which tells its customers what to buy.

Intel's corporate DNA contains conflict: paranoia and aggression alongside innovation and the engineer's love of openness. Its multiple personalities may be understandable. They are not excusable. With great power comes great force — and great responsibility. Balancing the two isn't just a matter of presentation, of tweaking the virtual layers to hide reality.

That reality will not be Intel's to control forever. The flexibility that virtualisation gives circuit designers means that key compatibility issues can be addressed in software, not hardware. This will give companies more freedom in choosing chips — and business partners. If Intel hasn't learned to value sanity over paranoia by then, the game will be virtually over.

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