Support for this kind of openness has nothing to do with charity. “Intel stands to benefit in the long run,” says Tennenhouse. By accelerating progress on new types of mobile computing and other disruptive technologies, Intel hopes to promote ideas that don’t fit within existing business lines but may transform consumers’ computing habits and become critical to the microprocessor market within the next few decades.
Gaetano Borriello, the director of Intel’s lablet at the University of Washington in Seattle, says the openness guaranteed by Tennenhouse was a big factor in his decision to take a leave of absence from the university to start up the facility. “If it had not been a new model, if Intel had just been doing an established corporate-research lab, I wouldn’t have been so interested,” says Borriello, whose lablet focuses on “embedded computing,” the effort to equip working and living environments with small, out-of-sight computing devices. “Instead of doing this at Microsoft, say, and not being able to talk about my work, I’m at a place where I’m encouraged to talk about it.”
For both Intel and the lablets, though, true success might well depend upon accomplishing a different kind of suspend/resume operation-when the time comes to “declare the open’ phase of a project over and shift the research inside” Intel proper, says David Culler, director of the Berkeley lablet. Culler says such transfers will be critically important, not only because they will help Intel collect on its investment, but also because they will create room at the lablets for entirely new projects. Already, though, Culler believes that Intel has achieved another goal with its lablets: “It has stepped into a position of intellectual leadership.”