Intel’s Larrabee and UMPC Will Rock Your Virtual World, Microsoft’s EU Win, Product of the Week

Looking back at last week, it was a combination of news from the past and news from the future.

Starting out the week, we had the EU ruling come down against Microsoft. I think if the company is smart, it can actually play this to its advantage (silly bureaucrats) and actually benefit from the ruling.

What took up most of my week was the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) which, like most events of its type, exists one or two years in the future.

There were a number of interesting things out of IDF, but two that could change the world as we know it were Larrabee — which could obsolete both processors and graphics cards — and the advent of the 3-D Web, which could obsolete every Web site on the planet — even this one — in Internet time.

We’ll close with our product of the week, which is an offering that launched today that is the first real example of this 3-D Web and it potentially could become as big as YouTube or MySpace is.

Let’s Start With Microsoft

There were three interesting aspects to the judgment that Microsoft lost on appeal in Europe. The first is that this is the EU playing commerce traffic cop, largely between U.S. companies, rendering the U.S. Congress and Justice Department ineffectual and largely impotent.

The second is that it showcases the silly power of a bureaucratic body that believed the Microsoft Media Player was unstoppable, even as it ramps up to nail Apple for actually being the excessively dominant vendor in that market.

Third — and most important — the interoperability requirement could both force Microsoft to go open source and, over time, force the other players in the space to be subservient to Microsoft.

Let’s take each in turn.

EU Thinking Locally and Killing Globally

When was the last time a global dispute between U.S. vendors was decided by a foreign court without the U.S. raising significant objections (granted, the latter may be changing)?

Now, think about what this creates. The EU clearly doesn’t have jurisdiction outside of Europe, but the U.S. can apply rules to a U.S. company that can apply to them globally because the U.S. is its home.

This means that any remedy applied can only be enforced in Europe and might actually create problems in the U.S., making it virtually impossible to use by a company that wants to deliver a solution globally.

I’ll explain how this applies when we get to interoperability, but if you’re smart, you will guess where I’m going. I’ll give you a hint: Think of the words “intellectual property contamination” and how that could be used by Microsoft outside of the EU to significant benefit.

This could actually hurt the other side more than it hurts Microsoft if Redmond plays it creatively.

Microsoft’s Media Player Only Dominant in EU’s Head

As far as silly misuse of power, who believes that Microsoft is impossible to beat with a media player? Not only that, but Microsoft has been supplying a media player-free version of Windows in Europe for some time and no one seems to want to actually buy it.

This should be part of the definition of “stupid” as the EU is evidently ramping to nail Apple for the same thing, and both clearly cannot be illegal monopolies in the same identical space. The remedy does virtually nothing to fix even the imaginary problem. The guys who came up with this should be wearing “I’m a moron” T-shirts.

Killing Microsoft’s Competitors With Localized Interoperability

With interoperability, the EU has given Microsoft little choice but to open source parts of Windows. However, Microsoft would still control the roadmap for this code and wouldn’t be under any real obligations to support anything derived by a third party that gained access to it through this judgment.

In addition, since the judgment only applies to Europe, anyone bringing the blended result to the U.S. could be charged with code theft, patent or copyright infringement. That would both force the related vendors to be subservient to Microsoft in Europe and to create unique products that only can be sold there. This should make the solution unattractive to the global companies that lobbied for it.

Finally, this code could potentially contaminate any code that is based on it, making it vastly easier for Microsoft to demand the kind of licensing agreements it has been getting from a number of open source vendors.

Consider the Ramifications

I’m guessing the word “implications” dropped out of the dictionary the EU uses, much like it dropped out of the one our ex-secretary of defense and attorney general used. In the end only Samba may use what results, and it’ll probably regret it.

Since this drives an open source direction for Microsoft, what if, instead of fighting it, it ran with it and made being open a strategic initiative much like it recently did with interoperability? Given Microsoft’s relationship with companies like HP, Sun and Novell, the end result could be a vastly more interesting and future version of Windows, or a Windows open source variant, returning much of the excitement and community that Vista currently lacks.

Granted, I’m making a number of assumptions — a massive number, actually — but if this had happened to Google, you know it would game the judgment like this. If Google would do it, Microsoft might. If successful, we could call this a win. I find thinking about the ramifications of this fascinating.

Intel Works to Change the World

These two things are related in that both are world changers, and Larrabee potentially helps make the virtual-world future vastly more compelling. Larrabee is a multi-core, future generation processor which can dynamically change modes from one that is almost entirely focused on graphics and multimedia to one that is focused almost exclusively on calculations.

It effectively obsoletes the standalone graphics card. Coupled with AMD’s Fusion initiative, this makes it clear that in three years, Nvidia better have a Plan B or it will find itself with a fraction of the market it currently enjoys.

This part, which won’t actually exist in prototype form for months yet, seems to embrace the benefits of the IBM Cell chip, which is used in gaming systems and high-end IBM hardware. Also, because it is based on near-generic Intel cores, avoids most of the programming problems as well.

A PC in Your Pocket

Moving on to the ultra mobile PC (UMPC), this was a product class no one took seriously until the iPhone was launched. Then people realized the iPhone is a UMPC, and suddenly Intel has more than 50 partners, many of them first tier, lined up to build or sell this thing.

Once it matures, you can probably bet Apple will jump to this architecture as well, eliminating a number of the shortcomings with the existing products. This could potentially negate the inability to be supported well by third party software developers.

Once you combine the two products, you get small, incredibly powerful, handheld computers that will make the current crop of iPhones look as obsolete as early ’90s-era laptops look to us today.

Don’t panic; it will take a number of years to get there, and you’ve got to believe Apple is likely to have a solution using this stuff as well.

Finally, Justin Rattner, in what was likely the most forward looking keynote I’ve seen in some time, spoke of the 3-D Web.

Built from the bones of Second Life and “World of Warcraft”(“WOW”) — which are kind of like AOL was to the 2-D Web — this will become our primary way of navigating the Web in the future. Intel just bought Havok, which makes the technology behind Second Life, “Bioshock,” “Halo 2” and “Half Life 2.”

Avatar Portability

The idea of being able to move between properties like “WOW” and Second Life while maintaining my virtual persona creates the opportunity to drop in on some incredibly boring Second Life vendor presentations and blow away the presenters with your advanced-level “World of Warcraft” avatar.

The real promise, though, is in modeling the real world. For example, maybe you could look at post-operation rendering of your cosmetic surgery before you go under the knife; or see how furniture, artwork, colors, textures and appliances look in your virtual home and then — once satisfied — buy and have them delivered to your real home with a click of a button.

This effectively bridges the real and virtual worlds. You should watch the Rattner talk if you really want to get a good idea of what this means and why you’ll likely want a processor like Larrabee and a platform like the UMPC when this finally becomes real.

Product of the Week: SceneCaster Birthing the 3-D Web

In what was an amazing coincidence, I met with a company called “SceneCaster,” which today is launching a tool that makes the commerce side of the 3-D Web a near-term reality. Others have evidently been calling this the YouTube for the 3-D Web. This tool allows you to create your own virtual world by linking to generally available, public 3-D objects which themselves are often active links to other things.

Think of being able to create an exact duplicate of your home (it is CAD based) populating it with virtual representations of real objects you would like to buy and, with a single click, being able to buy them once you were satisfied with the result.

Also think of the ability to create your own fantasy worlds that could contain YouTube videos or links to other things and images from your favorite movies, graphic novels and TV shows. You’ll be able to roam freely between your world and those created by your friends or even complete strangers.

Unlike properties like Second Life, imagine being able to take your hard work and easily move it to another site.

While short of the ability I’m looking for where you can raid Second Life with a “World of Warcraft” (or in my case, “City of Heroes”) strike team, it’s one big step towards the 3-D Web. Check it out.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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