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Ceo interview glenn henry founder of via processor subsidiary centaur

CEO interview; Glenn Henry1, Founder of VIA processor subsidiary centaur

Linux Devices. com is proud to present this interview with Glenn Henry, founder of VIA processor subsidiary Centaur Technology, and former Dell CTO and IBM Fellow. Henry discusses the founding of Centaur, its strategy and products, and why Linux is fundamental to his company’s success.

Q: Can you give us a short history of Centaur
A; The idea came to my co-founders
and me in 1993. We were working at
Dell — I was Senior Vice President in
charge of products. At that time, we
were paying Intel I think $160 per processor2. That was the lowest Intel
price, and that was a special deal. So, it occurred to me that you could make
a compatible part and sell it a lot lower. And that part, if not equally fast,
would be fast enough for the masses of people. 3
No one seemed interested in doing that. AMD” was just starting in the x86 business at the time, and they were trying to compete head-on with Intel5. So, in early 1994, I quit Dell, and three other people came with me. We spent a year working out of our homes trying to get funding to start a company to build low-cost, low-power, x86 Tag Heuer Replica chips6 that were differentiated from Intel but fully compatible7 with all the x86 software.

Our theory at that time was sort of a “build it, and they will come” theory. We thought that if we could lower the price of the processor, it would stimulate not only low-cost PCs, but also new applications we didn’t know about in 1994.

We found funding from an American semiconductor company called IDT, and started Centaur. Centaur has never been an independent company in one sense—we were previously wholly owned by IDT, and now we’re wholly owned by VIA. On the other hand, we’re an independent company in the way we operate.9 We have our own culture, our own payroll, etc.

We started officially on Apr. 1, 1995, the day the check came in the mail, an auspicious date. We shipped our first processor two years later, and then another a year and a half after that, in early-1999.

IDT decided to sell us because they had no presence in x86 or the PC world— there was no synergism10 there. So they publicly put us on sale, and VIA bought us in September of 1999. The marriage was perfect, because VIA produces all the other silicon that goes into a PC.

They design boards, their sister and cousin companies produce boards, their other cousin company makes all the other little low-cost parts for a PC—all that was missing, from a hardware point of view, was the processor.

In fact, since you’re Linux Devices, I’ll make a comment. When I was going around selling this argument, I would point out that the price of everything in a PC but two things was going down drastically, and therefore there’s this huge opportunity to move ” PC processing” into new dimensions.

But the two things that weren’t going down were reducing the opportunity. And those two things were the Intel processor, and the Microsoft software.

When we started, we had no answer for what to do about the Microsoft software. We just attacked the Intel processor part of it. But in the meantime, a-long came Linux. Our percentage of Linux—I suspect, although I don’t have the numbers to give you—is much higher than other peoples’ percentage of Linux, just because of the characteristics of our part.

VIA also had that vision of low-cost, low-power system platforms, so it was a good marriage, because we had the secret ingredient that was missing. As long as you have to buy a processor from Intel, you’re obviously restricted in how low a price or small a form factor you can have.
Q: So, currently the relationship to VIA is “wholly owned subsidiary?”

A; Yes, in one sense. We’re very independent, on a day-to-day basis. They don’t send people here. My titular boss is WenChi Chen, the head of VIA, but I talk to him once a month by phone, and it’s usually on strategic things. Day-to-day, month-to-month, we operate independently. We have our own payroll , own culture, etc. On the Tag Heuer Carrera Replica other hand, in terms of product strategy for the future, and practical issues like manufacturing and product support, we work very closely with them. In one sense we’re an integrated division, and in one sense we’re a contract processor design firm. Okay, we won’t push. We appreciate you taking the time to speak with’ us. We can’t imagine getting the president of AMD or Intel to do this.

A; Our whole strategy is so close to the, if you will, the fate of Linux. We identify so much with it. We’re low-cost, aimed at the common person, we’re aimed at new applications, and we don’t have any massive PR11 or marketing or sales budget12, so. Actually, I have a special softness in my heart for Linux13 . I think without Linux our business would be much less than what it is today. It’s just very important to us, so, I wanted to give you guys the time.

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