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"What we need to create is a Silicon Continent, not just Silicon Valley." -- Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, in The New York Times, seeking more government funds for high-tech research.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Intel: Darling of the Judges?

AS INTEL AND THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION PREPARE FOR THEIR MAR. 9 COURT BATTLE, three appeals judges will soon rule in another case that could damage the government's antitrust suit against the chipmaker, run by CEO Craig Barrett.

A D.C. federal appeals court is reviewing a preliminary injunction that Intergraph, a computer graphics company, won against Intel last April. The judge in that suit, which mirrors the FTC case, held that Intel had used monopoly power to withhold technical data Intergraph wanted. If judges Pauline Newman, S. Jay Plager, and Edward Smith agree, their decision would help the FTC--and be binding on the FTC administrative judge hearing the case.

But some experts believe the appeals judges will side with Intel. Reagan appointee Newman and the Bush-appointed Plager are considered conservative on antitrust issues. Their prior rulings indicate that they "tend to be inclined toward [Intel's] view," says George Mason University antitrust professor Ernest Gellhorn. If he's right, the FTC can still take some solace. A similar D.C. circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year forced the Justice Dept. to change its strategy against Microsoft.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Computers with Sharp Ears

BEING ABLE TO TALK EASILY TO COMPUTERS HAS BEEN A DREAM SINCE BEFORE THE DAYS OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, thanks to Intel Corp.'s new Pentium III processor, talking to PCs could soon be quick, simple, and commonplace.

How so? The Pentium III can zoom through the complex math used in speech recognition. With older chips, some users had to spend almost a half-hour "training" their software to understand them. On Pentium III PCs, the process takes less than five minutes. And, says IBM's top speech researcher, David Nahamoo, the Pentium III easily handles speech recognition alongside other PC programs.

In the next few months, makers of software that translates speech into computer text, such as IBM, Dragon Systems, and Lernout & Hauspie, will offer versions that harness the Pentium III, making speech recognition a standard PC feature by yearend. That could ignite the market for speech software.

And even better chips are in the offing. On Feb. 23, Intel previewed a Pentium III running at 1 gigahertz, twice its current rate and the fastest chip speed ever shown. Commercial versions could be on the market by the end of 2000.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Mario Andretti: Celebrity Can Really Be a Gas

AIR JORDAN SHOES. MARTHA STEWART TOWELS. Now, how's this for the latest in celebrity branding? Mario Andretti unleaded. Yes, the 58-year-old retired racing legend is licensing his name to Texaco gas stations on the West Coast in the hopes of eventually taking the Andretti gas brand nationwide.

The first 37,000-square-foot Andretti megastation opened in San Francisco in January. It has 10 gas pumps, as well as a Burger King and Starbucks, which lease space from Mario Andretti Petroleum LP. In coming months, Texaco will put the Andretti label on five existing California gas stations, adding "Winning Finish" car washes and "Quick Pit" service bays, branding exclusive to Andretti.

Celebrity evidently sells well. Sales at the San Francisco flagship already total 80% of first-year projected revenues of $5 million, says the partnership. The gas isn't any better than rivals', admits Andretti. But he boasts that the service is. The Indy 500 champ regularly visits his namesake station to make sure. He sometimes even lends a hand to surprised motorists. "I'll pump your gas and clean your windshield, no problem," he says. Now, if he would only drive folks home in the evening rush...EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

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