AT LARGE: Tongue in chic

AT LARGE: Tongue in chic

Preparing for his weekly rant, ARN's Matthew JC. Powell lights up a sandshoe and draws breath . . .

Actually, that intro is complete fiction. Apparently someone told Paul Zucker a few weeks ago that I must "smoke sandshoes" before I write this column every week. Quite apart from the obvious and regrettable wastage of footwear that would result from such a practice, I don't smoke. I also don't tend to say "sandshoe" unless I'm quoting someone else. It seems an odd word to use - surely you should avoid getting sand in your shoes? Wouldn't that make them somewhat difficult to smoke?

This week I'm afraid I'm stuck on (excuse the pun) rather more pedestrian matters. I've been reading a fair bit lately about the horrible plight of Intel, and how a series of falters and bumbles have, or will soon, cost it its market leadership. Although I'll admit that there have been blunders, I'm not ready yet to dance on the grave of the mighty Intel, barefoot or not.

The first problem for Intel is its stumble into the low-end market with Celeron. The cheap chip has had a bad run in the press for being slower than some MMX chips that cost less, and support from vendors has been limited. The fabled sub-$US1000 market is being taken by the likes of Cyrix et al.

So what? Let 'em have it. Why should the market's leader hack off its legs to compete for scraps? Intel will do fine by sticking to its guns higher up the food chain.

Then there's the antitrust bogey. Most people see US Government action against Intel as inevitable, although the company has nothing like the reputation for bullying that its partner in the Wintel hegemony has earned over the years. It seems to me that most people want Intel to be in trouble just to make a matching set with Microsoft.

Feeding time?

The worst sign for Intel in that regard is the fact that Intergraph's quixotic tilt has paid off in a few small ways. The few victories Intergraph has managed to achieve have put the smell of blood in the water, so the sharks are circling.

Truth is, Intel has taken steps recently to douse claims that it is creating a monopolistic position in the market.

Licensing Pentium II technology was an important one, but so are its various investments in technologies which will benefit the broader industry. It's likely that, even if the US Government moves against Intel, it will not do it any serious injury.

Meanwhile, I'm fascinated by a side-effect of the action against Microsoft. Several vendors, including IBM, are exercising their option to bundle Netscape Navigator either in addition to, or instead of, Internet Explorer. Considering that the heaviest of claims against Microsoft relate to the coercion of OEMs, it's fun to see a few vendors stick their tongues out at the school bully while the teacher's watching.

Merced delay

The last straw on the proverbial camel's back, according to the pundits, is the recently announced delay in shipping Merced until mid-2000. This creates an opportunity, apparently, for some other chip manufacturers to move in and take the high-end workstation and server thunder away from Intel.

Like whom, may I ask? Is Hewlett-Packard, a partner in the development of Merced, going to swap to Alpha? Will Intel, which has some stake in the fate of Alpha, allow this to happen? I think not.

The problem with the delay is that it crosses the dreaded turn of the millennium. In this industry, perhaps more so than in any other walk of life, the millennium has come to symbolise the moment of truth. It is the nexus to which we are inevitably drawn, and which will determine our fates. So much success or failure depends in this industry on what will happen on 1 January 2000 that it has taken on a terrible significance.

Almost everyone I know in the industry reckons that the millennium change will bring about some sort of disaster.

The simple fact is that many people still don't think too far beyond that date. Mid-2000 is two years away, but it may as well be a hundred. My advice to other vendors: don't announce any release dates for anything beyond 1999 until 2 January 2000.

If the Internet, the phone system and the TV satellites are still working, we'll be happy to hear about it then.

Unless we've all been in plane crashes, or gone broke because the bank suddenly shut and we can't get to work because the train system has gone into chaos and we can't drive because our licences expired a century ago. Not that I'm worried.

Oh well, that's another column done. Now to curl up with a good book and light up a Blundstone.

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