Crusoe: Revolution or Anticlimax?

The ultra-secretive Silicon Valley company Transmeta Corp. unveiled its new line of processors Wednesday, and nearly everyone in the business press was there. Transmeta's product, as you surely know by now, is an energy-saving chip family called Crusoe that promises to increase the battery life for laptops and handheld devices. The story got major play all over the media. Some sites, including Wired News and MSNBC, even ran two stories. Overall, reporters were torn between their instincts towards hyperbole and cynicism, resulting in a disparity in tone between stories with exactly the same facts.

The lede in Tom Quinlan's San Jose Mercury News story was among the more pessimistic. "The wraps came off Transmeta Corp.'s widely anticipated line of processors Wednesday, but despite the promise of revolutionary computer chips that can be reprogrammed on the fly, observers Wednesday were split over the company's prospects." He quoted analyst Van Baker saying, "We are still a little skeptical about their overall business plan for Internet appliances."

Compare that with the lede in the Reuters story, "Transmeta Corp., one of Silicon Valley's most secretive startup companies, on Wednesday launched its much-anticipated mobile chips called Crusoe with an innovative design that could revolutionize mobile computing."

Among Crusoe's chief innovations is its novel combination of hardware and software. As Salon.com's Andrew Leonard explained in the most lucid article of the bunch, "There are a number of advantages to this approach, not least that keeping the hardware simple means that the chip uses less power. Less power doesn't just mean the battery lasts longer - it also means that less heat is generated, so laptop manufacturers, for example, might not have to include space-wasting fans and other equipment aimed at dissipating heat in their devices." Most impressively, wrote Leonard, "Transmeta's chips can be fixed or upgraded much faster than standard chips" through online downloads. In other reports, though, this very feature came in for some drubbing - MSNBC's Gary Krakow suggested it could open new territory to crackers, writing, "With Crusoe we may just start seeing processor viruses. How clever is that?"

Amid the clamor, Salon's Leonard put the story in perspective. "[L]et's face it, longer battery life may not be the sexiest thing in the world, but we all still hunger for it. If Transmeta delivers on its promises, a world of airplane-flying, laptop-pounding, spare battery-lugging computer users will be eternally grateful," he wrote. A tech company that actually might make everyday life a little easier? That's certainly more than anyone can say for most hot new startups.

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