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Jewish World Review
May 22, 2009
/ 28 Iyar 5769
Tech innovation from the (court) bench?
Last week, Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Competition, announced that
the European Union has levied a 1 billion Euro ($1.45 billion) fine against Intel
Corp., the Santa Clara, California-based chip maker, allegedly for stymieing sales
of computer chips by other makers, specifically Advanced Micro Devices,
headquartered next door to Intel in Sunnyvale, Calif.
If the fine stands against an appeal promised May 13 by Intel president and chief
executive Paul Otellini, it will be, in my view, a dark day for technological
innovation, and for the free market. Innovation, the so-called "Eurocrats" seem
to think, must come from the judicial bench, and not the laboratory.
As has happened in other antitrust matters, most notably that of Internet Web
browsers, real innovation is passing the European Union and its antitrust lawyers by
at record speed. Both AMD and Intel are developing new chips; Apple Inc., which
switched to the Intel platform, is hiring its own coterie of chip designers for the
iPhone, iPod and similar items. None of this metamorphosis is coming from a
Moreover, the Intel chips which the EU is complaining about are being supplanted by
other chips of greater power and lower cost, from both AMD and Intel. According to
DigiTimes, a Taiwan-based IT newspaper, Intel has its roadmap, including faster,
less-expensive chips for ultralight "netbook" computers. Thus, the products over
which the EU is fighting will be outclassed shortly.
I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television, but I have watched this
business closely since (gasp) 1983. My personal preference is for open and fair
competition, and the more players, the better. But the market has spoken: Intel's
processors have greater market share than AMD's, although the AMD chips remain
quite popular. The allegation that Intel is unfairly pricing its product and using
other strictures to seal up market share is what's at stake here, but it seems to
me that such claims ignore a crucial aspect of market reality.
As much as Intel may (or may not) wish to "dominate" a certain market, it's
the quality of the product, and not only the "bill of materials" cost that will
keep a computer maker on their side. If Intel's processors didn't perform the
necessary tasks quickly and well, Intel's customers would go elsewhere. Period.
Instead, as we've seen in recent years, the opposite has taken place. Four years
ago, Apple Inc. stunned much of the world by saying they'd move their computing
platform, and operating software, from the IBM-spawned PowerPC chip to
Intel's processors. Today, you can't buy a Macintosh computer from Apple without
it containing an Intel CPU. Customers seem happy, and there's no indication that
Apple is ready to switch again.
Unless, of course, you count the iPhone/iPod chip-engineer recruitment drive
Apple's been on lately. Right now, the firm uses processors based on technology
from ARM Holdings, which specializes in what are called 32-bit RISC, or
reduced instruction-set computing, chips. Many media reports indicate Apple is
looking for a new team to design processors for iPhones and iPods that, presumably,
Apple itself can make, or have made.
So far as I can determine, Apple's move has noting at all to do with any
desires on the part of the European Commission.
That being the case, one has to wonder what the Eurocrats really want in this case,
as well as the earlier action this year regarding Microsoft Corp. and its Internet
Explorer Web browser. If its goal is to create some kind of "open market" where
one doesn't exist, it's my opinion that the folks in Brussels are already behind
If you don't like the iPhone, for example, there are tons of alternatives, the
most popular of which seem to be Research in Motion's BlackBerry line of
phones. If you don't like, or want, the chips found in most notebook or desktop
PCs, the "netbook" has many flavors of CPU options. Do you think Microsoft is a
front for Satan and his legions? The Linux operating system and, even under Windows,
products such as the Firefox Web browser, Thunderbird e-mail and OpenOffice.org
productivity software, as mentioned recently, are all available, and free for the
In short, in case after case, time after time, the free market has remedied the
alleged failings national and pan-national bureaucracies have gone tilting after.
That should provide a lesson for someone up there, but I have the feeling it
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com