Digital Equipment must appoint a trustee to safeguard the independence of its Alpha chip architecture after its takeover by Compaq, US trade authorities have ruled.
The Federal Trade Commission said the trustee must monitor all talks about licensing Alpha to other manufacturers. US antitrust bodies see Alpha as a potential counterweight to Intel's dominance in the chip market - even though Intel has acquired Digital's chip business - and are keen not to let it fall too much under the influence of one systems maker.
If a deal does not meet with the FTC's approval, it reserves the right to replace the trustee and take over the talks itself.
The new rules are an extension to the consent decree with which the FTC gave guarded blessing to the Intel-Digital pact. They do not mention Compaq by name but, in effect, take the decision on the future of Alpha out of its hands, by keeping it alive as an alternative to Intel in the 64-bit market.
Ironically, by permitting Digital's pact with Intel - under which the chip giant acquires Digital's Alpha business and manufactures the product, but which leaves Digital with design responsibility and patent ownership - the FTC believes it has given Alpha the fabrication resources it needs to be competitive against Intel's own 64-bit architecture, IA-64.
Although it permitted the deal, the FTC only did so on condition that Digital also licensed the architecture to other players, thus keeping it out of monopoly control. The stipulations said Digital should license Alpha to Samsung - already a long standing partner - and AMD, and should extend manufacturing rights to an Intel rival, possibly IBM Microeletronic, although some analysts doubt that IBM will be interested.
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