The War Within Wintel

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Did Bill Gates put the squeeze on Andy Grove? That's the latest antitrust charge federal investigators are pursuing in the Microsoft case, according to Wednesday's New York Times. Attempting to prove a pattern of abuse of monopoly power, the feds are focusing on a well-known August 1995 confab between Gates and Grove at Intel's campus. The Microsoft CEO was "livid" about certain software developments at the Intel Architecture Lab (IAL), according to an internal memo; the thought of the chipmaker meddling in multimedia and Java programs that would conflict with Microsoft's Windows ambitions for the Net apparently stuck in his craw. "Gates didn't want IAL's 750 engineers interfering with his plans for domination of the PC industry" and "made vague threats about support for other platforms," the memo said.

Pretty damning stuff. But apart from the brusque language, it's nothing we haven't heard before. "I know that Bill and Andy both consider that period to be one of the rockier ones for Wintel," says TIME senior editor Joshua Ramo, who interviewed Grove for the Man of the Year issue. Such tension is hardly surprising, given the way chip technology has taken so much of software's workload over the last decade. But while Gates gave Grove credit for "stepping back" on the software issue in a 1996 conversation published in Fortune, Grove claimed he "basically caved." Said the Intel boss: "Introducing a Windows-based software initiative that Microsoft doesn't support... well, life's too short for that."

Redmond's detractors point out that any company that can muscle Intel around is clearly a monopoly, and an abusive one at that. The pro-Microsoft ranks believe their rivals see conspiracy in the most routine business meetings. But with both ends of the Wintel axis under federal investigation, there are no winners here.