The inevitability of complete,
computer systems-on-a-chip will create the MicroSystems
industry. By 1999, 32 MByte memory chips are predicted. So by
2002 we would expect a PC-on-a-chip with: at least 32 Mbytes,
video and audio I/O, built-in speech recognition, and industry
standard busses for mass storage, LAN, and communication. Technology
will stimulate a new computer industry for building applications
specific computers that require partnerships among, system customers,
chip fabricators, ECAD suppliers, intellectual property (IP) owners,
and systems builders.
The volume of this new MicroSystem
industry will be huge -- at least two order of magnitude more
units than the PC industry. For every PC, there will be thousands
of other kinds of systems built around a single chip computer
architecture, with its interconnection bus on chip, and that is
complete with processor, memory hierarchy, i/o (including speech),
firmware, and platform software. Powerful processors will enable
firmware to replace hardware.
SGI (MIPS) supplies the key technology
for Nintendo and Sony to build games, and WebTV to build an Internet
access set top. Netscape's Navio licenses software to build
Internet consumer access devices including phones, games, and
television sets to attempt to replace PCs. (Partners included
IBM, NEC, Nintendo, Oracle, Sega, and
Sony.) SUN's Microelectronics division is designing and licensing
special processors for the Java language and environment. Acorn
licenses its ARM processor. Oracle is licensing its network computer
to sell server software. Microsoft has various alliances for
designing pocket and set top computers.
The emerging MicroSystem industry will consist of:
Like previous computer generations
stemming from Moore's Law, a MicroSystem will most likely have
a common architecture consisting of: Instruction Set Architecture
(ISA) such as the 8088, MIPS, or ARM; a physical or bus interconnect
that is wholly on the chip and used to interconnect processor
memory and a variety of i/o interfaces (disk, ethernet, audio,
and software to support real time and end use applications. As
in the past, common architectures are essential to support the
myriad of new chips economically.
Will this new industry just be an evolution of custom microcontroller and microprocessor suppliers, or a new structure like that that created the minicomputer, PC, and workstation systems industries? Will computer companies make the transition to MicroSystems companies or will they just be IP players? Who will be the MicroSystem companies? What's the role for software companies?