Intel lays down case for software focus

Hardware needs software more than ever, CEO Brian Krzanich said

For decades, Intel chips would be unboxed and put straight into computers. But the chipmaker is now trying to tie software closer to hardware before it starts producing chips, according to CEO Brian Krzanich.

"For companies like Intel that are for the most part hardware companies, we tend to use software as a driver for hardware, and we tend to think of software as helping drive [the] need for hardware," Krzanich said in a chat session on Reddit.

In driving his point home, Krzanich invoked former Intel CEO Andy Grove. Grove said that software and hardware were complementary, and "drove each other," Krzanich wrote.

Intel's software focus has grown in recent years, which became evident when the company appointed Renee James as the company's president in May, a promotion from her previous post as executive vice president and general manager of the software and services group. James and Krzanich work as a team to make decisions for the company.

In recent years Intel has also made many software acquisitions, including McAfee. Intel intends to push the acquired software into mobile devices and PCs.

Intel is tuning McAfee -- now renamed Intel Security -- software to take advantage of security features on its chips. Intel also acquired software companies like Wind River, whose real-time operating system is considered key for its supercomputing and low-power "Internet of things" chips to securely collect and quickly process data.

Intel has also released its own Hadoop distribution designed to work best with its server chips.

"We now spend a huge amount of time upfront thinking about the experiences we want a user to have before we put one transistor on the chip," Krzanich said.

That is how Intel has changed its approach in chip development -- first defining what a product is going to be used for, developing the software and tools around it and then tuning the chip to meet that user experience, Krzanich said.

"It's about experience, and without a great user experience from the un-boxing onwards...you don't have a product," Krzanich said.

Krzanich also touched upon the company's relationship with Apple.

"We've always had a very close relationship with Apple and it continues to grow closer," Krzanich wrote. "We're always trying to build the relationship with all of our customers to be closer."

Apple uses Intel's chips in PCs, but uses its own ARM-based processors in the iPhone, iPad and other devices. After sticking to making mainly x86 chips in its factories for decades, Intel opened up to making ARM-based processors earlier this year, and will be making 64-bit ARM chips for Altera, which makes FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays).

Analyst firm IC Insight last week sent a note saying that Intel should cut a deal with Apple to make 64-bit chips on the 14-nanometer process, which is considered the industry's most advanced manufacturing technology.

Krzanich also said he hopes 40 million tablets with Intel chips will ship this year.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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Agam Shah

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