Silicon Insider: Intel, Buy Texas Instruments

Dear Intel:

Buy Texas Instruments. Now. Don't wait. Don't fool around trying to cut the best possible deal. Just pay the premium and buy TI. If you have any questions, call Andy.

In one of my very first columns for this page, nearly six years ago, I asked a very simple -- but, it turned out, also controversial -- question: Could Craig Barrett run Intel?

At the time, new-CEO Barrett was being hailed as the great successor to Andy Grove. He was reputed to be Grove's equal in intellect and experience, but at the same time had none of his predecessor's fiery temperament and take-no-prisoners management style. Barrett was described as an easygoing cowboy, who would lead giant Intel into a period of consolidating the huge growth and market dominance it had earned during the Grove era.

I didn't question any of those appraisals. What I did ask was if those really were the right characteristics by which to judge Barrett's ability to run what was, at the time, the most valuable manufacturing company on earth and the cornerstone of America's high-tech leadership.

Neither Intel nor its many admirers would have any of it. Barrett, after all, had been a key player in getting the company to its then pre-eminence in the semiconductor industry. Even more important, thanks to its (tense, but industry-defining) partnership with Microsoft, Intel enjoyed a near-monopoly in microprocessors -- that most important of all the tech businesses -- that not even an idiot could lose. And, frankly, after Justice Department antitrust investigations and accusations of hardball business tactics, both customers and employees were ready for a little Pax Intel after 20 years of Andy Grove table-pounding.

Logging Intel's Mistakes

But I knew something else about Intel. A few years before that, I had written a book about the microprocessor that, at the time, was still being used in some university engineering survey courses. The book ("The Microprocessor: A Biography") was essentially two books in one: an explanation of the technology and how it worked and a history of microprocessors and the semiconductor industry.

Having covered Silicon Valley already for nearly two decades by then, I assumed the latter story line would hold few surprises for me. And yet, as I wrote the narrative, I was suddenly struck by something I'd never noticed before.

It was that Intel had screwed up an amazing number of times in its first 30 years. Indeed, it had probably made more mistakes than any other chip company during those three decades.

That certainly didn't correspond to the common perception of Intel as an army of single-minded, humorless engineers relentlessly chewing up market share in microprocessors, taking on all comers, big (Motorola) and small (Advanced Micro Devices), innovators (Zilog) and manufacturers (TI), the kindly (HP) and the ruthless (National Semiconductor) -- and beaten them all. Intel had taken the title of the Most Important Company in the World in the early '80s and had tenaciously held it against all comers ever since. Even more than HP or IBM or Microsoft, Intel had been the gold standard in tech, the company that could be depended upon to never stumble.

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