Gibbs' column: Is Intel headed for Jerry Springer?

"While I'm willing to admit that the program has a prurient appeal, the attraction wears thin quickly. The 'guests' are more like bad actors than real people, making The Jerry Springer Show seem like the WWF of talk shows."

-- James Berardinelli, film critic

Like Berardinelli, I must confess finding a certain creepy, prurient appeal in The Jerry Springer Show. After all, where else would you find a drunken monopede dwarf confessing his love for lederhosen or be able to watch a rejected striptease artiste begging her ex-boyfriend, a cross-dressing truck driver, to take her back?

Now what has this to do with networking? Well, Intel is acting so oddly that I suspect that an appearance on Springer can't be far off.

If you go to Intel's Web site you'll find (assuming the company doesn't change anything before you read this) a link to something called WebOutfitter.

WebOutfitter is described by Intel as providing "access to cutting-edge Web sites, tools and tips that enhance your Internet experience with a Pentium III processor".

Note that little qualification: "with a Pentium III processor". If you want to access WebOutfitter content you must be running a Pentium III. Why? Only the gods and people with a Pentium III know. When you click on the link, Intel requires that you download and execute a utility that tests if you have a Pentium III. If not, it dumps you on a page that pitches the benefits of Pentium III ownership.

There's also the interesting restriction that you must be running Windows 98. My guess is that Intel doesn't have software to run the test on other operating systems, so if you have a Pentium III but you're running Windows 95, NT, Macintosh or Linux, forget it.

How I loathe the term "cutting edge"! It is one of those examples of marketingspeak that screams "hype" as soon as you hear it. I'm looking for examples of hype in vendor copy, so wing 'em my way.On one of its Web pages, titled "Software and Sites for Home", Intel may be tipping its hand regarding the content of WebOutfitter, because it lists software and Web sites that "make the most of your Pentium III processor-based PC".

It cites the likes of Battlezone and Photo Express and implies that the Pentium III makes these somehow better. How does the Pentium III make Battlezone better than running it on, say, a Pentium II? Or an AMD chip for that matter? I mean, in real terms.

Then there are the Web sites that are supposedly improved by the Pentium III. These sites include the likes of AutoByTel, Bloomberg, CNET, Scoreboard and eToys. According to Intel, I can "shop online in more convenient and informed ways" and "surf and explore the Web in natural, intuitive ways" through the performance and power of the Pentium III. What crap.

With the whole WebOutfitter gig, Intel appears to be attempting to Balkanise users as a marketing tactic -- a strange way of dealing with a commodity market.

As Rich Wiggins, an Internet author who also works as a technologist at Michigan State, commented in a posting to a private e-mail list recently, "It seems to me that that approach is exactly backwards. No one will be motivated to buy a Pentium III to see that content. Far better to give me the content and the tools, see how slow the tools are on my 'ancient' Pentium (or AMD) system, and decide to upgrade."

If Springer ever does a show on "marketing groups that don't get it", or "monopolists that can't restrain their power", Intel will be an ideal guest.

Bizarre guests to nwcolumn@gibbs.com

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