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Gateway CEO takes on Goliath

When Ted Waitt criticizes the Microsoft-Intel duopoly, you'd better listen.

BURLINGAME, California--When Larry Ellison rails against the Microsoft-Intel power axis, the general reaction is that Larry is just being Larry. But when Ted Waitt implies the same, you had better listen.

The chairman and CEO of Gateway (GATE), speaking here today at the PC Tech Forum, implied strongly that the duo's stranglehold on the personal computer industry is not good for customers.

Asked in a brief interview with CNET's NEWS.COM how his vision matches up with Bill Gates's oft-stated goal of "Windows on every desktop," Waitt did not directly answer the question. But he did say the operating system gets too much attention.

Waitt said the OS should be "hidden away" and that what users need is a "front end, a navigational tool" that would allow them to simply do their work. "It should be a sort of a browser-centric world," he said. Waitt pointed out that users spend 27 percent of their time, on average, fiddling with Windows.

Waitt didn't pull any punches during his speech either. "We can't let the creators of this technology lead and the world follow blindly...We should not allow ourselves to be intimidated by some technology companies," Waitt told the audience of engineers and industry analysts.

Asked later whether he thinks Microsoft and Intel are the intimidators, Waitt said, "You can read between the lines."

Waitt's comments are extraordinary, coming from the head of a company that has reaped tremendous financial rewards from the Microsoft-Intel duopoly and over the years has been one the greatest proponents of the two companies' model for the PC industry.

Waitt's general theme is that personal computers need to be more accessible, easier to use, functional, and affordable, elements that are often lost in the industry's zeal to innovate.

"Technology for technology's sake is not innovation," he told the audience. "What we in the industry have to be concerned about is what products do, as opposed to what the processing power is."

The Internet is having a great influence on how people use the personal computer, according to Waitt. Users, he said, are increasingly interacting with content and information, and in that environment "the operating system will be less important than the content."

Waitt also implied there were alternatives to Intel's chips. He told NEWS.COM that AMD's K6 "is a pretty good processor." He refused to comment on whether Gateway is considering building a non-Intel PC but did say that Gateway is "always evaluating new technologies."

The key to Gateway's success, he said, is keeping the customer at the forefront.

"Customers should be able to put their trust in us to take them to their destination," he said. "Companies that are closest to the customers are the ones who are going to lead the industry."