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Intel Walks Tightrope Between Microsoft and Linux

By Chet Dembeck
Jul 2, 1999 12:00 AM PT

In a move that surely gained favor with Microsoft and drew disdain from Linux lovers, Intel Chief Executive Crag Barrett made a joint speech with Bill Gates at a Burlington, California meeting this week -- showcasing companies that are switching from Unix systems to Windows NT. The companies included Ford Motor Co., Enron Corp. and Sony Corp.

But some analysts say that the joint announcement by the biggest personal computer chipmaker and the biggest software company was little more than a chest beating ritual directed at Linux -- the new kid on the block that's been kicking butt and taking names.

Yet, it's Intel obvious collaboration with Microsoft and at the same time its reluctance to back away from Linux that shows not just the depth of its duplicity -- but also the progress of the free operating system's penetration into Microsoft's backyard.

For instance, Anand Chandrasekher, Intel's workstation products division general manager, told the Associated Press Tuesday that Intel's continued commitment to Microsoft doesn't undermine Intel's relationship with Linux users. The fact that Intel has pumped millions into VA Research, a Mountain View, California-based maker of business computers that run on Linux, illustrates Intel is definitely hedging its bets on a system designed to drive a stake through Windows' heart.

Two faces

Intel is forced to play both ends against the middle -- since the sales of its microprocessors are still currently dependent on Windows. But one wonders what will happen if Linux's market share of 17 percent continues to grow geometrically? Moreover, what would happen if Linux suddenly becomes the dominant player that its proponents claim it will?

Considering the past history of conflicts between Intel and Bill Gates and company, some industry experts wouldn't be surprised to see Intel gladly wave sayonara to Microsoft with its thumb on its nose. But then, this scenario assumes that Microsoft will just lay down and allow Linux to pound it into oblivion.

Cornered companies can be dangerous

Just like wild animals, cornered companies can be dangerous when their corporate lives are being threatened. Behind Microsoft's confident smile, there lurks a secret game plan to conquer Linux -- backed by billions of dollars and an army of the best computer scientists and marketing experts money can buy. To think otherwise is pure naiveté. The consensus among many industry experts is that Linux won't have to wait much longer to find out what Microsoft has in store for it.


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