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Big, bad Intel up to no good again?

The chipmaker is accused of monopolistic business practices pretty much all of the time. How much is too much?

Intel is accused of monopolistic business practices pretty much all of the time. So much so that the big bully boilerplate isn't worth repeating.

The latest reports of charges against Intel are interesting because of the timing. According to this March 10 headline, the Korean Fair Trade Commission has ruled against Intel. That would be news if it hadn't been news eight months ago. Here's an English-language summation of the case that was news in June 2008. (CNET News report here.)

Not that all complaints about Intel business practices are unfounded. Certainly not. But how many times do we have to hear the "news" that Intel leveraged its market position to finesse a deal? (Answer: ad nauseam.) In this case, the American Antitrust Institute selectively translated text from an old 133-page report to show that Intel coerced Samsung (and others) into using Intel chips instead of those from Advanced Micro Devices.

Again, worth putting out there eight months ago but probably not today.

And let's remember that, of course, Nvidia and AMD never do this in the graphics chip market when they're trying to reel in a customer. No enticements, no sweeteners to close the deal. Absolutely not. Perish the thought.

But I shouldn't rush too quickly to Intel's defense. There will be plenty of real news related to Intel's market dominance in the coming years. The intensified focus now on Intel's business practices is happening against the backdrop of the severe financial straits of its sole competitor. No one wants to see AMD go away. (No stronger advocate of this than AMD itself.)

That said, the question should always be asked: is it really unfair competition or is it merely unfair as Intel's less-successful rival sees it? The grumblings I most often hear about are MDF and bundling. Different parties' interpretations of Intel business practices (real or imagined) connected to Market Development Funds and bundling are too varied and too byzantine to cover here. But that two-second Intel jingle at the end of a Dell, Hewlett-Packard, or Sony TV commercial can have, for AMD, an ominous ring to it.

All of the above gets (very) complicated because of Intel's dominant market position. One question is, where does MDF end and alleged brass-knuckles, restrictive bundling begin?

"So, Mr. Computer Maker, want some peppier graphics in that Netbook? We got this thing called the GN40...So you might want to reconsider that Ion thing." Nvidia may have a point here. But are they being out-bundled or simply out-maneuvered by Intel? You decide.