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Grove sees clouds in blue sky

The head of Intel has seen the future of the Internet, and it isn't bright.

BURLINGAME, California--Andrew Grove has seen the future of the Internet, and it isn't bright--at least for those expecting an explosion of high-speed communications.

The president and CEO of Intel spends a great deal of his time these days dispelling myths about the worldwide communications medium. He took the opportunity again Wednesday at Intel's Internet Media Symposium held here.

"The myth is that bandwidth is just around the corner," Grove said in a comprehensive interview. But he cautions that the infrastructure necessary to provide the fat pipes for on-demand, high-quality video streaming and other multimedia-rich applications won't be here for a long time yet.

"Hey, as far as the commercial eye can see, it's a POTS (plain old telephone line) world," Grove said Wednesday. "The unwashed masses are going to have POTS for the next few years."

Grove's candor can be viewed alternately as a refreshing touch of realism in a hype-drenched market or as self-serving promotion, given that Intel's interim solution to this problem--dubbed the "hybrid" Internet application--also gives the company a compelling sales pitch for ever-faster, ever-more-powerful processors.

A network linked by T1 connections is the ideal environment for a high-bandwidth, multimedia-rich Internet and can be had right now, but only by the rich or the extravagant. "Who's going to pay $2,000 a month? It's not economically viable," Grove said.

The all-digital ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) connections are an improvement over POTS, but Grove believes that the majority of users won't bother to install it. And, he added, application vendors tend to develop for the mass market--which is POTS.

Intel's "hybrid" model calls for multimedia-rich, data intensive portions of the application to reside on the local PC hard disk drive or CD-ROM (later DVD) drive while updates of timely data, mostly text and numbers, are delivered over low-bandwidth Internet connections. In this scenario, the multimedia-rich, and resource-hungry part of the Internet-aware multimedia application is downloaded only once to a hard disk drive or delivered on a CD-ROM.

The catch: Powerful Pentium and P6 family processors will be needed to run all this local multimedia data.

Grove is also aware that Intel has to present some kind of vision to remain a technology leader in a market dominated by the Internet. "We've got to do something," said the leader of Intel, which is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network. "Once you sit still, you open up an opportunity for others."

Not everyone, however, buys into Intel's hybrid vision.

"Hybrid seems unnatural. You lose the immediacy and that's what the Internet is all about," said, Martin Reynolds, a vice president and chief analyst at marketing research firm Dataquest. Reynolds says the multimedia applications could take hours to download, a fact that will immediately turn off users accustomed to relatively fast data delivery from the Net.

But Reynolds also believes that Intel is driving the industry in the right direction by pushing the envelope on Internet content, even if its idea of how to design the content is flawed. A major technology vendor pushing for ever richer content, he believes, may force infrastructure companies such as the telephone companies to meet the need for on-demand, high-quality video streaming and other multimedia data on the Internet.

Intel next year will begin a major industry drive for the Advanced Connected PC, a device internally dubbed the "dream machine" that will be designed to run such hybrid applications, as spelled out by Grove at the symposium. These kinds of PCs will include a spanking-new MMX-enabled P6 family processor, integrated modems, Accelerated Graphics Port graphics subsystems for high-performance 3D graphics, AC-3 six-channel sound, cyber-photography, and digital video disc drives.

And despite the skepticism from some quarters about Intel's vision of Net applications, several if not all of the top-tier "Intel Inside" computer vendors are expected to follow along and offer this kind of PC, including Compaq Computer, IBM, Gateway, and Sony.

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