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A year ago: Serious questions remain for Intel about business conduct

We take a closer look at the Catto case

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Intel has now provided The Register with a statement concerning Ken Catto's expulsion from Intel newsgroups, but regrettably this addresses none of the major issues. Catto, of Portland, Oregon VAR Select Micro Systems (SMS) was thrown off the groups and the Intel IPD programme for "abusive language" and profanity both on the newsgroups and to Intel staff, and that's about it folks. The latest statement is actually less wide-ranging than the charges originally posted by Intel Internet Support operative Tim McCarthy - these included defamation, posting "content which infringes another's copyright, trademark or trade secret," harassment of another newsgroup member and disruptive activity. Catto denied all of these, but with respect, the claims against him aren't the important ones. Life is too short to be wasted on arguments about whether or not people swear and harass in newsgroups or not - we accept that Catto may well have got excited, but then the claims he's making about Intel are worth getting excited about - they're serious, and deserve an Intel response. Catto says he first got het up last year because he'd based plans for systems and made sales on the basis that he would be able to use the Pentium Classic in them. He says Intel was telling him the chips were still available, but that there were spot shortages, whereas Intel's distributors were telling him the chips were unavailable. He says he later learned that the chips had indeed been out of production when Intel claimed spot shortages. Cattto's next beef was more recently, in what he says was a similar situation over the Pentium Pro - he can't get chips, Intel says spot shortages, distributors say it's dead. It would be wrong of us to vote for Catto all the way on this, because we know the way Intel operates. It tells its partners about product plans, but it revises those plans frequently in response to market conditions (and yes, AMD and Cyrix). What that means is that the people dealing with Intel products have to be as fast-moving as the company is. They need to listen to every last nuance of what Intel has to say, and they need to make a few predictions of their own, and avoid exposing themselves too heavily to a line that's in peril. It was clear for most of last year that Intel wanted to dump the Pentium Pro, so the real question you had to ask yourself was when it was going to be able to do it. Pentium Pro systems were still a pretty good base, if you could get Pentium Pro, but maybe Catto ought to have worried more about whether he could. But that's the realpolitik approach, and there's also a valid argument that says you shouldn't have to go through this kind of stuff, that your business partner should make clear statements about where it's going rather than operating through nudges and winks. Nor should it tell you one thing and other people another, which is what Catto's saying Intel did. Here, we think it would be helpful if Intel covered the allegation, but for what it's worth, we think the truth is probably fuzzier. Slightly different timings of slightly difference signposts, translated and elaborated through the channel bush telegraph could easily have come up with markedly different messages, and therefore flat-out lying needn't have come into it. But that's not exactly an exoneration - doing business in this kind of fuzzy way leaves pits all over the place for system builders to fall into, and bigger companies than SMS have been maimed by not getting the Intel message quite right. Catto's next claims are more worrying. Two people "purportedly" from Intel, no names no business cards, visited and attempted "to threaten and intimidate us into submission." Did these people exist? If so, did they work for Intel, and what was the purpose of their visit? We really think Intel ought to deal with this, and with the other claimed visit from someone asking about other people posting in the newsgroup. Who was this? Why did he want to know? Has he talked to the people he named? And finally, Catto says two distributors told him it had been suggested to them that they 'lose' some of his shipments. This is a very serious allegation indeed, and again ought to be dealt with. Ken Catto paints us a picture of frighteners, wrong information, harassment and disruption which goes beyond robust business practices. Maybe he's exaggerating, maybe he's imagining it, but maybe Intel should respond to this, rather than to the 'who swore first' stuff. ®

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