Intel Off the Hook

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Apparently Intel isn't the evil, chip-pushing giant the FTC wanted us to believe it was. In an abrupt about-face Monday, the Federal Trade Commission struck a deal with the giant chipmaker, one day before it was set to open a major antitrust suit against Intel on charges of Microsoft-like monopolistic bullying.

At the heart of the FTC's allegations were charges that, in exchange for crucial technical information about its chip technology, Intel forced three computer makers to license their intellectual property in ways that favored the giant chipmaker. Indeed, "Intel Inside" stickers seemed for a while to be as unavoidable on computer boxes as Windows logos were on PC start-up screens. But although the details of the deal were not made public, raw numbers appear to reveal a kinder, gentler Intel. Its market share is not what it used to be -- even by January, as the FTC was preparing its case, its command of the chip market had fallen to about 75 percent, down more than 10 percent from the previous year. More telling is that Intel's competitors, such as Advanced Micro Devices, have gained market share. And given the less-than-glowing reviews about Intel's Pentium III chip, possible further descent along the market share ladder may just keep the FTC satisfied.