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AMD's quest may benefit M$

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Hardware

An antitrust complaint with something favorable to say about Microsoft? Is it possible?

Apparently so. The antitrust suit filed last week against microprocessor giant Intel by its smaller rival, Advanced Micro Devices, singles out Microsoft for its willingness to support an innovative processor that AMD pioneered.

From the outside, it might seem surprising that the AMD suit doesn't instead criticize Microsoft, given its close ties with Intel as part of what many call the "Wintel" partnership. But the situation illustrates the fact that the interests of Microsoft and Intel aren't always tightly aligned.

In fact, some analysts say Microsoft would benefit if AMD is able to become a bigger competitor to the dominant chipmaker -- either through its antitrust suit or over time in the market. Such an outcome could give Microsoft more influence in its dealings with Intel, under the notion that the Redmond software company could just as easily work with AMD instead.

To be sure, you probably won't hear anyone from Microsoft say such a thing. The company hasn't signaled any plans to take a position on AMD's suit, and it doesn't appear likely to play a major role in the case. Its name appears only three times in AMD's 48-page complaint.

"It's really an issue between AMD and Intel and (computer makers) in the industry," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said last week. "There's no discussion of Microsoft in any significant way in the AMD complaint."

But if AMD gains more market share and industry acceptance, its emergence as a stronger alternative could give Microsoft more power in its discussions with Intel over the future direction of microprocessors, said analyst Roger Kay, vice president of client computing with IDC. Microprocessors are the brains behind computers, and their specific attributes help determine what a piece of software can do.

It would be in Microsoft's best interests to have "two strong silicon providers," Kay said. "If AMD becomes a more viable player as a result of this suit, then it opens up opportunities for leverage for Microsoft" in its work with Intel.

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