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Intel CEO mum on Vista's impact

Paul Otellini surprises a few reporters when he clams up over Microsoft's operating system.

LAS VEGAS--After giving what we would describe as a visionary and even entertaining keynote address at CES on Monday, Intel CEO Paul Otellini carved out some time to answer questions from a small group of reporters. When it comes to tech CEOs, Otellini has been somewhere between Steve Ballmer and Michael Dell on the openness scale, though definitely much closer to Ballmer. So it was a little surprising that when we asked a simple question about Vista, Otellini pleaded the Fifth.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini
Intel CEO Paul Otellini makes a point with reporters at CES in Las Vegas. Corrine Schulze/CNET

Noting that Bill Gates had said during his Monday keynote speech that there are now 100 million people using Vista, we wanted to know whether Intel considers Vista a success in driving PC upgrades--or was 100 million installs simply a reflection of the market's growth rate? In other words, after five years in development, was Vista having any impact on moving hardware, and by extension Intel processors?

Before the question could even be finished, Otellini shook his head and said, "no," he was not getting into any discussion about Vista.

We considered that not just odd, given Otellini's history of taking on all questions, but a sign that Intel is seriously displeased with Vista. If that weren't true, why couldn't the CEO muster even a lukewarm response like, "We certainly think Vista a superior OS, but after five years in development we would have hoped it had more of an impact on creating a demand for PC upgrades."

We followed up by asking if he preferred Apple's approach to OS development--rolling out an upgrade every 18 months or so--versus Microsoft's multiyear process. Otellini responded that he had heard that Gates said a day earlier that there could be one more monolithic Windows upgrade. "If that's true," Otellini paused before continuing, "I would rather have them move a lot faster and keep up with silicon technology."

On other topics:

Apple: Asked straight up which chip would be in the lightweight laptop Apple is rumored to unveiling next week at Macworld, Otellini said, "I've learned that you don't talk about Apple." Or Vista? we kidded. "Or Vista."

The UMPC: Otellini defended the ultramobile PC, a small form factor PC that has sold in modest amounts. He described the UMPC as "still evolving" and said it's too early to call it a flop. Noting the early days of the cell phone--bulky and expensive devices with limited functionality that are now small, ubiquitous, and powerful--he said, "You would not declare the cell phone a failure in year two."

The medical market: The medical industry "is the least penetrated by IT in the world," which is "why it's so inefficient." He added that that will change when costs reach a "crisis" point.

On Gates stepping aside at Microsoft: "I envy the fact that he doesn't have to do another keynote." He added that Gates "set the standard" for the industry. "Do I miss Bill from a business relationship? Yeah, I've known Bill for years."