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Intel's traveling salesman

TVs, living rooms and emerging nations are where Intel's Anand Chandrasekher will spend his time.

Anand Chandrasekher has a knack for being in the right spot at the right time.

In the 1990s, he headed up the effort to get Pentium chips inside workstations. Intel went from being a blip in the market to dominating it a few years later. When laptop sales exploded, he ran Intel's notebook division. Centrino became a success story under his watch.

Now, as senior vice president of sales and marketing, he occupies a position once held by current CEO Paul Otellini. Unlike in recent years, where Intel was trying to grow by getting into new markets, the chip giant is now spending most of its energy trying to come up with new ways for people to use their PCs, which, in turn, could prompt a wave of upgrades. Just before Intel made a big splash at Macworld, Chandrasekher sat down with CNET News.com to talk about the Viiv platform, world markets and Intel's plans to get inside TVs.

Why don't you give us the quick history of Intel's platform strategy of selling a complete suite of products rather than single chips.
Chandrasekher: Everybody kind of assumes that it was after Centrino (which bundled a chipset, a processor and a Wi-Fi chip) that we jumped on this platformization approach, but it really wasn't. We started four to five years ago. It was actually pre-Centrino. The Pentium 4 was pretty tough for us to get ramped into the marketplace. The marketing campaign and messaging around it was all around speed and the old way of doing things.

There's no reason your PC screen cannot be a content screen as well as a communications screen.

It broke the speed barrier from a clock speed standpoint, but the market clearly had moved beyond that. So Pentium 4 was a wake-up call to us internally, and the wake-up call was that we really needed to anticipate usages and what people are really doing with their PCs.

The success of Centrino effectively gave enough confidence to the management team and, in particular, Paul (Otellini), who said it was time to change the entire company, orienting it around platforms.

What other types of devices does Intel want to get into? With the Oplus Technologies acquisition, it looks like TVs are on the list.
Chandrasekher: That, I think, is probably the next space. The TV, as you and I have grown up with it, is not going to be the TV that the next generation of kids grows up with. It's going to be dramatically different. If I look at the home today, there are multiple pipes coming into it. There's one pipe through which you get data into the home, there's another pipe through which you get voice, and there's a third pipe through which you get content. At some point in the near future, and we can debate at what point that is, but in the near future, I think that those three pipes will effectively be one pipe.

As those three pipes converge, the screens inside the home will change. There's no reason your PC screen cannot be a content screen as well as a communications screen. By the same token, you're going to use your TV screen for voice, video communications, data. The amount of intelligence inside of it is going to have to change.

At a friend's house recently, we were watching a cricket match. India was playing Sri Lanka. The cricket match was piped into the PC because it was on the Internet. None of the major service providers--Comcast or Dish or whoever--was actually offering that particular match, but there was an Internet service provider that did. So the cricket match was being piped to the PC, and from the PC, it was being piped to the TV.

How does the platform approach differ for your different markets? For instance, what can you do for corporate customers?
Chandrasekher: There's a lot we're doing on the manageability side. Viiv is about what we can do in the home; Centrino is about what we can do in mobility. On the enterprise side, what we did is take a look at what IT guys do, and we started it with talking to our own guys. About 11 percent of the IT budget is focused on what we call innovation: driving competitiveness of the company or driving productivity. But 89 percent is on the plumbing, making sure that there are no hiccups. So that's what gave birth to AMT (Active Management Technology, for remotely controlling desktops), LaGrande (security), virtualization and so on.

You'll see the first examples of this come out in the desktop arena. You'll also see it come out in the mobile arena and then in the server arena, with IOAT (input/output acceleration technology).

Will you have specific platform brands like Viiv and Centrino for these markets? Is it the kind of thing you need for enterprise sales?
Chandrasekher: I think that'll vary case by case. It certainly will in the home environment, where we've got the opportunity to articulate what we've done differently. It's the same notion on Centrino. Why did we brand on Centrino? We didn't brand it because we wanted to sell a collection of these things together. We branded it because we designed the products to work together and wanted to deliver against the four vectors (wireless, weight, battery life and performance). Without the brand, we couldn't have done it.

Viiv is very similar. There's a range of things we're doing in Viiv, which, if you don't buy the components that make up Viiv, we can't assure the experience.

Bundling chips in Centrino, though, also enabled you to sell more chips. Before that, Intel really didn't have a presence in Wi-Fi. Will Viiv enable you to enter any new markets or increase your sales through bundling?
Chandrasekher: Not per se. We didn't do it in order to get into a new market segment or to increase our portion of sales of a particular product. We did it in order to be able to assure the consumer of the experience that we're committing to. It's not about imperial overreach.

But incremental sales aren't a bad thing.
Chandrasekher: No, as a byproduct that happens to grow our business, it's not a bad thing at all. Home is the untapped opportunity, in terms of the intersection that's taking place between consumer electronics and computing today. If you assume that with Viiv, we're providing some basic benefits and basic capability, albeit on the PC side, will there be a drag effect into other areas? We hope there is.

Intel tried something like Viiv two years ago, with the E-PC and it didn't sell. What will be different now to make acceptance greater?
Chandrasekher: I think several things. The E-PC introduces a new category, and it takes a little bit of time. As technology industry executives, we always overanticipate the ramp-up, and we underestimate the ramp-down of an older technology. Also, I think many of the E-PCs didn't have some of the CE-like features that we've been working with since then and have incorporated into Viiv.

If you assume that with Viiv, we're providing some basic benefits and basic capability, albeit on the PC side, will there be a drag effect into other areas? We hope there is.

One of the features that people think about when they think about a CE device is, you push a button, and it comes on, right? Like a TV. With a PC, you push a button, and it thinks for 30 seconds before it comes on. That's something people don't like in a CE environment. So we've actually applied technology to address exactly that, and you'll see it in Viiv.

Have you been on the road lately?
Chandrasekher: The last trip I took was to China for a day, then to Taiwan for two days. I hadn't been to Taiwan for some time, so I needed to go tell them about our road map for the next year. And then I came back. Then I was in London for a day, then Warsaw, Poland, for a day. I'll probably hit something like 20 or 30 countries this year.

How are sales in the emerging markets?
Chandrasekher: It's been going very well. In the emerging markets, you have this amazing cocktail where a) IT penetration is low and b) growth rates are phenomenal, fueled by indigenous activities or foreign investment. The other thing we see in these markets is the natural tendency of the citizenry to accept technology as a means of improving themselves, and the governments are supportive of that.

Other than India and China, where else might tech centers spring up?
Chandrasekher: Russia has sort of the same dynamics going for it as China and India do: a highly educated population, and if you look at that region as a whole, the population is not small.

If you look at Latin America as a whole, it's quite large, and the gross domestic product is not bad. Argentina has a phenomenal software capability, right. In fact, we're opening up a lab in Argentina precisely for the software arena. And in the Middle East, Egypt has a good base of engineering. It is sort of the development hub for the Arab-speaking world, so there's a tremendous amount of talent there.