It was only a matter of time before Advanced Micro Devices filed an antitrust lawsuit against Intel, alleging that its nemesis for years has engaged in anticompetitive practices that bullied hardware vendors into shunning AMD's processors. Dare to use AMD processors, and you'll pay dearly by losing those sweet pricing deals.
It's hard to fathom that Intel will fight the allegations with a wholesale denial that it uses strong-arm tactics. When a report released in March by the Japan Fair Trade Commission concluded that Intel contravened Japan's Antimonopoly Act by compelling five major PC vendors to either be all-Intel all the time or cap their use of non-Intel processors at 10 percent, it forced Intel to show its hand. The company opted not to officially challenge the report's findings. Good call. A lot of this stuff is so blatant that plausible denial isn't even an option.
That's not to say Intel won't put up a fight. It will engage in the kind of legal maneuvering that only obscene amounts of money can buy, so that the case becomes so convoluted that it will languish in legal limbo until the Gateway cows come home. Meanwhile, life will go on, and hardware vendors will continue to be beaten into submission with Intel's pocketbook.
There's a lot that's disgusting about all this, but only about a third of my disgust is directed at Intel. I'm pretty disgusted, though, so that's still a lot. Watching out for the best interests of your employees and shareholders is certainly commendable, but when you do it at the expense of fairness and respect for your partners and competitors, you deserve all the disdain you get.
Another third of my disgust is directed at the wimpy hardware vendors that allow themselves to be manipulated by Intel. In its 48-page complaint, AMD alleges that in 2001, Gateway CEO Ted Waitt told an AMD executive that his company had been offered "large sums" not to do business with AMD. "I have to find a way back to profitability. If by dropping you, I become profitable, that is what I will do," the complaint claims Waitt said.
Of course we don't know if Waitt really said that, or anything like it. But there's little question that hardware vendor executives have quivered and buckled to a degree that's downright embarrassing. If they'd had the fortitude to stand up to Intel, the users who have been clamoring for more choice would have been much better served.
The final third of my disgust is reserved for AMD. Its processor technology is every bit as good as Intel's, and arguably better. The only way Intel can be successful in its alleged attempts to bully vendors into shunning AMD chips is for there to be a perception among computer buyers that AMD's products are somehow inferior. And AMD has no one to blame for that perception but itself. You can't have technology that's at least on par with Intel's and yet have such a pathetically small share of the processor market, unless your marketing and execution have been mired in incompetence for years.
It's a shame it had to come this. Every Intel and AMD dollar that goes into a lawyer's wallet is a dollar that could have gone into R&D to make better products. Now that's disgusting.
Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld US