The term "Wintel duopoly" has fallen into disuse lately. Microsoft and Intel, once inseparable centers of the PC universe, now forage into new markets to feed their insatiable hungers for growth, and increasingly they find themselves in each other's backyards. And not always for neighborly chats.
Now the twin titans of personal computing share the rather unwelcome attentions of those pesky Washington, D.C., trustbusters. As most sentient readers know, the Justice Department sued Microsoft last month on antitrust grounds. And the legal beagles at the Federal Trade Commission are on Intel's case (nothing filed yet) on fairly similar grounds.
Both are charged with being bullies in the marketplace. The legal specifics vary, but government lawyers say neither Intel nor Microsoft plays fair. Both use their market dominance in a predatory fashion to hurt partner, customer, and competitor alike.
So why has the Microsoft case created a media feeding frenzy, while Intel's antitrust woes are arguably under-covered by the press? (This is the appropriate point to disclose that Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network, parent of NEWS.COM. Microsoft isn't. Neither company had any input into this commentary.)
Is Microsoft a worse offender than Intel? (Don't think so.) Is Microsoft higher profile than Intel? (Yes.) Is Intel smarter than Microsoft in the legal and PR arena? (Unquestionably.)
Is Intel nicer than Microsoft? (Doubtful.) Does Intel have better public manners than Microsoft? (Absolutely.) Is Intel more insular? (Certainly.)
Finally, does Microsoft the monopolist produce more enmity within the industry than Intel the monopolist?
Definitely, but I'm not sure why. One theory: Microprocessors are an obscure technology, but software is easier to grasp, so Microsoft's thuggery is more obvious. Another theory: Intel's corner of the chip industry involves far fewer companies than those that rely on Microsoft's software to build their own products. So Microsoft can piss off many more people faster than Intel can.
Many technologists argue that Microsoft's basic product, Windows, is a piece of bloated junk. But few suggest that Intel's architecture, despite its limits, is inelegant or trashy. And Intel, unlike Microsoft, does have copycats that clone its chips--but Advanced Micro Devices, Cyrix, National Semi, and others can't seem to do it cheaper, faster, or better.
Look at the public personas of the two companies. Bill Gates is a brilliant, abrasive, arrogant, driven man born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Andy Grove (still Intel's public personality despite turning the CEO title over to Craig Barrett) is, well, Uncle Andy, who fled Communism to come to America and embody the classic American immigrant story.