Intel is one the biggest contributors to open source technology. It is an important member of The Linux Foundation, and is one of the most significant contributors to the Linux kernel as well. But when the company designed its latest platform, Clover Trail, it chose Windows over Android or Linux. This move generated a broad range of reactions within the community, and people have begun to think that Intel is opting out of Linux and open source technology. Diksha P Gupta from OpenSource For You caught up with Narendra Bhandari, director, Intel Software and Services Group, Intel South Asia, to understand the company’s strategy on open source technology, its initiatives for developers in India, and the idea behind leaving Linux while designing Clover Trail. Excerpts:
What is Intel’s strategy around open source technology?
The world knows that Intel is one of the major contributors to the Linux kernel. We contribute in a major way to Android as well. In fact, we are putting in a lot of energy into Android, given the fact that the platform is getting increasingly popular these days. I think our contribution to open source projects speaks volumes about our ideology around open source technology.
Does Intel do Android-related development in the Indian R&D facility as well?
Not for the base platform, but in cases where we take the platform and make it available for devices, like the Lava Xolo phone that was released recently, we work to customise it. The development is basically split between multiple sites. The Indian facility also has an important role to play in that.
How does Intel view the development of open source technology in India?
Overall, our strategy with open source has been pretty clear for almost 10-15 years. We are continuously investing in the base of open source like the kernel and all the other layers around it. We are a significant contributor to it. We try to push as many tools as we can on all environments, as much as possible. The community, from an application perspective, also has access to a lot of our technologies online. We have given the community SDKs, tools and we continuously update these with all the platform changes that happen.
We drive a strategy where the developers write for multiple OS platforms including the open source distributions. Our objective is to get them as much benefit from the hardware angle as well. For example, if they are writing for a particular OS with Intel architecture, there are multiple libraries and multiple layers available, which are optimised for our architecture and the developers can take advantage of that. More specifically in India, I think, from a developer programme perspective, we go across to the developers’ hot-spots in the country, provide them the access and get them the information. As you are aware, the community is based on a self-driven model. People decide what they want to do and how they want to contribute as individuals and organisations. We provide the productivity tools so that they can go and contribute. I don’t track how much contribution has gone from one country or the other. The community doesn’t necessarily record any such details anywhere in the world. It is primarily focused on contribution.
What is your opinion about the Indian market and how does Intel plan to grow in this open source technology market?
We broadly look at the developers’ base in the country. There are certain very clear trends in the developers’ community of the country. If you look at the last three-four years, the contributions from India in the form of applications for a variety of platforms and a variety of OSs have definitely increased manifold. Three to four years ago, the interest in our developer programmes came mainly from people probably doing services or a small set of applications. We are now seeing a shift where a lot more people are trying to build intellectual property, which can be in the form of a game, a business application, something that makes it easy for consumers to educate themselves, something which could increase their productivity or something which could be just pure fun. What we are seeing is a pretty significant contribution from the developers based in India. Many of them use different components of technologies from across the ecosystem and the community. So, if you bring those two elements together, I think it is relatively safe to assume that there is a lot of usage and interest in what is available in open source for the developers.
The other factor that you think about in today’s environment is the turn-around time for applications or the cycle time for applications—to be conceptualised, built and made available in the market – this has shrunk in a big way. Hence, the developers are thinking along the lines of how they can get their app or piece of code in the store or onto any other platform they choose to deploy it, as fast as they can. Then, they look at all possible tools in the environment.
Getting involved with Intel’s initiatives
Does Intel have any programme that involves developers with its platforms?
Basically, all the way from Atom to Xeon, we use these processors to build a variety of platforms. There are Atom-based platforms going into a variety of clamshell form factors, into embedded systems, and into phones and tablets. Then, there are Core-based platforms, which are used in the ultrabook category, and then there are the server platforms. For each of these platform levels, we have SDKs, tools, communities, events, contests, hackathons, mentoring incentives for start-ups, etc—pretty much helping developers in the engineering space and as much as possible, in the business space too. There is a very strong level of participation from Intel Capital, where we invest in companies from India. So, we have a spectrum of offerings for developers from India, from trying to get them a basic compiler or the SDK, to getting them to our business channel and potentially getting them access to small capital to get them started, and eventually get equity investments. We have been doing this consistently and we have grown in this domain over the last few years.
To answer your questions, depending upon what their target market is, developers get various benefits from Intel, right from the platform to the SDKs, tools, etc. How they choose to sell depends upon whom they are trying to sell to. If a company is building an Android application, its predominant choice would be Google Play when it comes to selling the app. But we give developers tools to make the applications a lot more productive on our architecture.
What are your initiatives for developers in India, particularly for open source developers?
As far as our developer programmes are concerned, we work with the top high performance computing (HPC) installations in the country, where most of them work with a variety of open source projects. This is beyond supporting the community initiatives, which include making sure that online communities are available. We also work with academic institutions to provide them the tools. SDKs are provided to academia in a very different model. If you move higher, you find all the HPC installations. You know HPC is typically customised open source work load. We practically work with all the large HPC installations across the country to make sure that their open source work loads are adapted to our platforms. At a worldwide level, if you pick the top 5-7 most popular workloads, most of them are constantly getting optimised for our architecture. For instance, Hadoop is very well optimised for our architecture and the developers have access to it. Practically, anyone and everyone who takes Hadoop and works in it, deploys it or optimises and builds applications on top of it, gets the benefit of our open source investments.
If you notice, the level of abstraction in the open source world is moving higher and higher; at the same time, all our experts are constantly investing in making sure that the kernel is more robust, and that new features come in the mobile space. We have some of the best emulators in the Android space as well.
If I plan on a start-up and want to reach out to Intel, how should I go about it?
You can call a bunch of people at Intel Capital and they can help you. There are some Intel Capital representatives based in India who are really active within the industry. They are Skyping, they are listening, they are connected to the industry in every way—they work with co-investors, constantly trying to provide good opportunities. There is a constant flow of ideas and, depending upon the state of the company, the appropriate resources are provided.
If yours is a three-person start-up, which is coming up with an application for ultrabooks around education, you may not be ready for Intel Capital, but you are definitely in for my developers’ programme where you will be helped to turn your idea into a concept and data. Start-ups have access to hardware from me, they have access to tools from me, they can attend my developers’ forums and join the community to reach a stage where they can design a prototype, work with some potential customers and get the product to the revenue-earning stage. When they reach the stage at which they need capital to grow further, that is the appropriate time for them to talk to Intel Capital. This does not mean Intel Capital doesn’t talk to small start-ups. They help a lot of people and guide them. Their value to the community is not just the investments but also the guidance or strategic value that they provide.
Does that mean Intel has something to offer to all developers, be it a small start-up or a large set-up?
I certainly hope so. I am working with companies that comprise just five people, all the way to the equity investments stage. I hope this is covering a majority of developers. In the process, maybe we will learn that we are missing out on a few and find out what else can be done. Our fundamental approach and strategy is to drive new usages which are relevant to our environment on a variety of hardware platforms. So if there is something that is helpful for a teacher to help students learn the variables of an equation faster, we would love to bring that into the market place. If there is some application that helps businesses to balance their books faster, especially relevant to the Indian environment, we would love to support that. Our objective is to get more and more folks to build applications, not necessarily for Indian environments but preferably for Indian users.
How does a developer contact you to participate in your initiatives?
There are several mechanisms for that. First of all, get online. That is where Intel’s developers’ zone comes into the scene. This is something which we have re-launched, simplified and tried to make into a simple, focused office. If you want to know what Intel is doing for developers, go to software.intel.com. You can be a part of Intel’s developer zone depending upon your interests, technology, etc. If you feel the need to get more benefits, you can contact our partner programme. We have contests available for different parts of the country. My team was a part of around 20-30 events in the past three months — many of them are hosted by the industry and a few of them are hosted by Intel, and we invite the developers. There is a constant flow of developers coming to us and seeking help in various ways. People use the social media like Facebook pages, Twitter, emails, and catch up at events. We also make a conscious effort to go out and talk to people doing incubation for developers. There are many companies that host events for developers and we are present on such occasions.
What are your strategies to involve students from colleges?
We have had a relatively robust programme in academia, fundamentally to build awareness of what is happening in the industry and what students can draw from that – for instance, our science contests are pretty famous. We work with curriculum bodies and colleges directly. We provide them hardware tips. Some years ago, we went to colleges and spoke to students about multi-core or parallelism in technology, and wanted to get these concepts introduced into their curriculum. It was too early and people were not aware about something like this at all. Today, we can see multi-core smartphones and devices, and they are being advertised for parallelism in computing. We went around and gave curriculum we developed to over 200 colleges across the country at that time.
We are doing a lot with the embedded community on how to build embedded applications. There are some planned efforts and then there are some impromptu initiatives as well, to make the student community benefit from our technology and programmes.
Clover Trail: Intel’s controversial child!
Let’s touch upon the most controversial Intel product being talked about these days, Clover Trail. Does it support Linux and Android?
To begin with, we are working to bring Windows 8. From the tablet platform perspective, our focus was to bring out the platform with the Windows 8 experience. But more and more evolution is scheduled to happen in the coming days. We will bring support for other platforms depending upon the need and demand. For over 15 years, we have always first come out with platforms, and then, over time, added Linux drivers, Linux interfaces and so on. The important thing now, from a consumption perspective, is to look at what kind of trends show up. We have to see whether people are choosing the Windows 8 offering or going down the path of the Android eco-system. We have got the expertise. We have more open source talent than probably any other company. We have got the platforms. I think it is going to be market driven as well. But, for now, Clover Trail is coming with Windows 8.
Some reports claim that Intel has ruled out the possibility of any open source technology on Clover Trail.
Clover Trail is an Intel Atom SoC platform in the tablet space. Like other products at Intel, there is a roadmap on the Atom SoC platform, where we will see support for open source technology. When will that happen, I cannot comment right now, but it is surely coming. We will have to see how the market dynamics change. At the same time, form factor also plays a major role on how the platform will evolve.