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share of honor

Area native deserves
share of honor

Time magazine chose Intel Corp. chairman and CEO Andrew Grove as its 1997 Man of the Year to recognize “the person most responsible for the amazing growth in the power and innovative potential of microchips.” He’s a worthy recipient, a refugee from Nazi and Communist oppression who led the growth of a company that now makes nearly 90 percent of the world’s PC microprocessors.
By choosing Grove, Time indirectly recognized the achievements of a Rochester native. Marcian “Ted” Hoff, a 1954 graduate of Churchville-Chili High School, was an engineer and one of Intel’s first employees. When Busicom Ltd., a Japanese calculator maker and Intel client, wanted a complex, 10-chip semiconductor system to operate a line of programmable calculating devices, Hoff devised a simpler approach.
Rather than use dedicated circuitry to perform separate functions, why not employ a single, general-purpose chip designed for speed and versatility?
At first, neither Busicom nor Intel officials showed much interest in the microprocessor as a product for the general market.
But Hoff and his team prevailed. On Nov. 15, 1971, Intel unveiled the 4004 microprocessor–a semiconductor with 2,300 silicon transistors that reduced an entire computer CPU to a single chip. Today, Intel’s Pentium II packs more than 7 million transistors in a space the size of a thumbnail.
Since Hoff’s innovation, the computing cost of doing an MIP, or million instructions per second, has dropped from $1 million to $10. Many experts predict over the next two decades the cost will plunge to less than 1 cent per MIP.
“The microchip,” Time noted, “has become–like the steam engine, electricity and the assembly line–an advance that propels a new economy.” In other words, it has changed the way the world works as well as the goods and services produced.
For his role in the microchip revolution, Hoff and his team last year were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio. And in November he received the prestigious Kyoto Award from Japan’s royal family.
Yet how many people in Rochester would recognize Hoff’s name?
Without Hoff’s work, there would be no Microsoft Corp., the other half of the so-called Wintel duopoly. These days, a number of people think no Microsoft–or at least much less of it–would be a very good thing.
Microsoft’s hard-nose stance on its Internet Explorer browser has industry rivals and federal antitrust regulators pretty steamed.
Last month, a federal judge handed down an injunction that bars the software giant–at least temporarily–from requiring PC makers to bundle its browser in their Windows-equipped machines. Microsoft, arguing that the browser is an integrated part of its operating system, has vowed to fight the ruling.
Its “right to innovate” is at stake, the company maintains.
Many observers think what’s really at stake is the survival of smaller competitors such as Netscape Communications Corp. When you can get Internet Explorer for free with the purchase of a PC, why buy a browser from Netscape or anyone else?
Which raises another question: Whom should PC consumers root for?
It’s hard to like Microsoft’s monopolistic tendencies, but the company’s practice of integrating features– from screen-savers to file-compression programs to Internet browsers–has made life both simpler and arguably less expensive for PC users.
Those tendencies also have forced companies like Netscape to continually push innovation, since they can’t beat Microsoft on price.
Free or fair play–those appear to be the philosophical options for consumers.

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