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FTC to appoint guardian for Alpha

Trustees to look after future of endangered chip

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A year ago From The Register No. 75, May 1998 The Federal Trading Commission (FTC) is making an extraordinary condition on Digital's sale of its semiconductor operations to Intel - a trustee will have to be appointed to supervise the licensing of Alpha to other manufacturers, and if the FTC doesn't agree with decisions that are made, it will step in and look after the chip's future itself. This condition is included in the consent decree permitting the Intel-Digital deal to go ahead, and is an unprecedented piece of government intervention in the free market, in order to preserve it. The decree seems tacitly to conclude that, left to their own devices, Intel and Digital (or Compaq. The new parent company) would take decisions about the future of Alpha that would not necessarily be in the interests of free competition in the 64-bit market. Digital's Alpha technology has become more obviously key to the 64-bit generation over the past few months, so it makes sense to the FTC to force it into free licensing, if not quite into the public domain. Negotiations over Digital Alpha licensing in the future will certainly cover Samsung, whose current position seems unclear. The company has been a second source of Alpha for some time, and in February struck a deal which allowed it to develop its own high volume version for 'specific markets,' and at the time it seemed clear that Samsung could make design changes, so long as it maintained compatibility. It has however been reported elsewhere that the FTC is under the impression that Samsung still only has manufacturing rights, which contradicts February's announcement. Samsung is however now rather important to the success of the Intel-Digital deal. The FTC wants Alpha to be licensed to two other manufacturers, and the company has the virtue of actually wanting it, whereas others like AMD and IBM are playing hard to get. So now all Samsung probably needs is some hard currency to run with it. ®

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