Here Comes the Real Microsoft Judge

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Bill Gates always said the tech world meted out justice faster than the Justice Department ever could. Now AOL and computer maker Gateway are trying to prove him right. The online giant and the PC maker announced Tuesday that they had tapped privately held chip maker Transmeta — a good chunk is held by AOL and Gateway, actually — to use both its new Crusoe processors and an adaptation of the Linux operating system to power a new generation of Internet appliances. The strategy is part of "AOL Anywhere," and the deliciously timed announcement — don't think AOL boss Steve Case doesn't know this is Break It Up Week for Judge Jackson — was a pointed message that as the microprocessor moves off the desktop and invades the rest of the house, AOL and friends intend to do it without use of the Wintel alliance. ( is owned by Time Warner, which has agreed to be bought by AOL.)

"Microsoft's chokehold on the industry just loosened a little more," says TIME Silicon Valley writer Chris Taylor. "There are already significant competitors to Intel's chips, but this is an important step in the development of Linux as an alternative to Windows." Linux, says Taylor, is more of a backbone system — and for, say, a kitchen appliance that downloads recipes and keeps electronic tabs on the contents of your refrigerator, AOL will be better able to tailor its own interface to paper on top of Linux's OS guts. For Case and friends, that's not only better for branding, it means no more kowtowing to Lord Gates. "It's 'the alternative' project," says Taylor. "AOL's been shaping up as the anti-Microsoft for some time, and this is the latest move." Microsoft had planned a similarly themed Next Generation Windows Services forum for Thursday to tout the company's plans for what CEO Steve Ballmer calls the PC-plus era. It's been rescheduled. For Microsoft, these are uncertain times.