Santa Clara, California: As Intel Corp. tries to expand beyond the personal computer chip business, it is changing in subtle ways. For the first time, its long unheralded software developers, around 3,000 of them, have stolen some of the spotlight from its hardware engineers. These programmers find themselves at the centre of Intel’s venture into areas such as mobile phones and video games.
The most attention-grabbing element of Intel’s software push is a version of the open-source Linux operating system called Moblin. It represents a direct assault on the Windows franchise of Microsoft, Intel’s long-time partner.
“This is a very determined, risky effort on Intel’s part,” said Mark Shuttleworth, the chief executive of Canonical, which makes another version of Linux called Ubuntu.
The Moblin software resembles Windows or Apple’s Mac OS X to a degree, handling the basic functions of running a computer. But it has a few twists as well that Intel says make it better suited for small mobile devices.
For example, Moblin fires up and reaches the Internet in about seven seconds, then displays a novel type of start-up screen.
People will find their appointments listed on one side of the screen, along with their favourite programs. But the bulk of the screen is taken up by cartoonish icons that show things such as social networking updates from friends, photos and recently used documents.
A polished second version of the software, which is in trials, should start appearing on a variety of netbooks this summer.
“We really view this as an opportunity and a game-changer,” said Ronald W. Hovsepian, chief executive of Novell, which plans to offer a customized version on Moblin to computer makers. Novell views Moblin as a way to extend its business selling software and services related to Linux.
Intel has also bought software companies. Last year, it acquired OpenedHand, a company whose work has turned into the base of the new Moblin user interface.
Intel tries to play down its competition with Microsoft. Since Moblin is open source, anyone can pick it up and use it. Companies such as Novell will be the ones actually offering the software to PC makers, while Intel will stay in the background.
Still, Renee J. James, Intel’s vice-president in charge of software, says that Intel’s relationship with Microsoft has turned more prickly. “It is not without its tense days,” she said.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES