Intel is asking itself what’s next for Linux.
The chip giant recently pulled its disparate efforts to work with the operating system. Those efforts span programs aimed at notebooks, desktops, servers, storage and vertical markets such as telecommunications, together under one roof, creating a Linux Program Office, run by its Software and Solutions Group.
Intel created the office, one of several it maintains for major efforts such as working with Microsoft Corp., as a single point of contact between it and the wider Linux community.
The move comes as Linux is growing in importance to businesses that most often use the operating system on their Intel-processor servers. Thus Intel intends to help make sure the OS runs well on its hardware.
“We said, ‘Let’s get the team together and be more thoughtful of the way we work with the community,'” said Renee James, vice president of Intel’s Software and Solutions Group.
“It’s a natural maturing of the way we think about open source and the community,” she said. “One thing you haven’t seen from Intel is a really strong voice in some of the [open source] communities.”
But it’s also a time when software is becoming more strategic for Intel’s overall product development strategy. Late last year Intel shifted from selling individual parts toward creating product platforms around its chips. Intel’s platforms, which range from wireless notebooks and business desktops on up to dual-core processor servers with built-in virtualization capabilities, always include at least one special feature.
Software is typically the key to making the special features work, thus cementing the platform together.
Centrino, Intel’s platform for wireless notebooks, focuses on cutting notebooks’ network cables.
Intel’s software group created Windows applications and Linux drivers to assist the platform. Future platforms for businesses, which will include elements such as processors with built-in virtualization, will require still more work, including interfacing with third parties.
Although it’s known as a hardware maker, Intel has become more involved in software over time. Intel has increased the number of software engineers it employs to more than 5,000.
The chipmaker is continuing its traditional software efforts, such as providing drivers with its chip sets, but many of the engineers are now working on its newer efforts.
“Linux activity [at Intel] has increased in the last couple of years as Linux has grown in the enterprise,” James said.
“As a platform company, all OS environments are important to us. The Linux activity is really about our platform enabling. I don’t perceive there to be a tremendous signal of change” there.
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To add to its Linux effort, Intel has also recently hired two well-known Linux experts, Dirk Hohndel and Danese Cooper.
Hohndel, who serves as director of Linux and open-source strategy at Intel, is part of the program office.
Cooper is senior director of open-source strategy for Intel’s Channel Software Operation.
Together, they can serve as ambassadors of sorts, gathering more direct feedback from developers and helping the company to better discern how it should participate in Linux development going forward, James said.
Having people like Cooper and Hohndel on its side is likely to give Intel greater credibility with at least some in the Linux community.
Despite matters such as Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s antitrust lawsuit against it, Intel is seen as having helped Linux, said Eric Raymond, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative.
“We tend to be distrustful of vendors as dominant as Intel is, because their attempts to lock in market control are invariably bad for open source,” Raymond said in an e-mail to Ziff Davis Internet.
“Thus, you’ll see most of us rooting for AMD [Advanced Micro Devices Inc] to win the antitrust suit it’s mounting —and that would be true even if we didn’t think AMD chips are technically superior.”
But, Intel should get credit for lowering hardware costs, which Raymond said was an essential element for open-source development to thrive and for working with Linux despite its ties to Microsoft.
Aside from writing Linux software—it wrote Linux drivers for Centrino, for example—Intel has also worked on broader efforts, such as assisting resellers in emerging computer markets by creating kits for building Linux desktops.
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