ORLANDO, Fla.—Intel's chief executive Craig Barrett may be set to retire soon, but he's going out fighting.
Speaking to more than 6,500 technology executives at an industry conference sponsored by market researcher Gartner, Barrett addressed everything from Intel's missteps with its chip rollouts to the impact of U.S. economic policy.
Asked why Intel last week canceled plans to release a 4GHz Pentium processor, Barrett admitted that the company "missed a commitment to its customers, and we ate crow."
"I would have preferred to not have missed that commitment," Barrett said, bending down on one knee and facing the audience. "Forgive us."
He said the change in plans points to the choices Intel must make between building faster or more powerful processors. "It's an indication of what the industry was facing in terms of a power challenge. We can run transistors faster. Or we can use them to do something else, like increase performance."
Intel's move to go to multicore processors "is precisely what we have to do to prevent that power challenge," he said. "Give users benefits, not just a brighter light bulb."
Barrett, an outspoken critic of government policy on education and research funding, didn't give any hints about his own plans.
"I don't intend to abandon high tech after I step down…from CEO. I hope to stay involved with Intel and the industry in some capacity," said Intel's chief executive, who will be succeeded by company president Paul Otellini in May.
He says he will be content to stay on the political sidelines. There will be "no government role" for him, he said. "I've been involved with Intel and the industry for 30 years. It continues to enthrall me. Leaving the business is always a challenge."
Still, Barrett took the opportunity to decry the lack of U.S. funding for science education and research.
"The worldwide environment and other factors are challenging. That's what you don't see debated in the presidential elections," Barrett said. "There are a lot of well-educated people providing competition for U.S. jobs, but we're not debating that. We're debating how to protect textile workers. We're debating how to protect pillow case workers."
Barrett called for a doubling of the research and development budget in sciences in the United States. "It has been flat in absolute dollars for two decades," he said.
"You would like to think that public leaders are statesmen and have the country's best interests at heart," Barrett said. "We spend $25 billion on agriculture subsidies a year. Yet we spend $5 billion a year on basic research and engineering. Do you think agriculture is the industry of the future? You would like your government leaders to stand up and say something about that. I would like them to stand up and say something about it."
Turning to the information technology industry, Barrett dismissed questions about whether IT matters, the topic of a controversial Harvard Business Review article published last year as well as a subsequent book by author Nicholas Carr. "The book was controversial and made (Carr) an instant star. But nobody has mentioned this to me for six months. Let's talk about something more consequential," Barrett said during a Tuesday morning question and answer session with Gartner analysts.
As for future drivers of growth for both Intel and the industry at large, Barrett singled out the increasing automation of supply chain operations over the Internet along with the continued explosion in wireless technology, particularly wide-area schemes. "We will see an explosion of WiMax over the next 12 to 18 months," he said.
Designers and engineers, along with consumers, will continue to drive demand for greater processing power in the future, Barrett said. "Anybody who is in that design space never says there is too much processing power."
Other sources of growth for Intel will be in convergence of PC and entertainment systems, and in providing technology to the telecommunications industry and the mobile phone market, he said.
"We're working into the handset, cell phones and PDA market. We have done well in iPaqs and Palms, but less well in pushing into handsets. But we're moving into that area," Barrett said.