Is Intel Cheating on Microsoft?

The tech giants are all but married -- but a $844 million deal suggests Intel has roving eyes

Who's Intel's newest arm candy? Why, it's Wind River Systems, a sexy software company based in Alameda, Calif., which Intel just bought for $844 million.

Wind River has had a really cool history.  Its software, a lean, mean operating system for all kinds of devices, been a force behind Francis Ford Coppola movies. It's helped to guide the Mars Rover.  It's led Ferraris into the victory lane during Formula One races.

From most accounts, Intel, which doesn't buy a whole lot of companies these days, is picking up Wind River to give itself an operating system. It's already got the chips, the graphics processors, even a little hardware (with its "Classmate" PC line).  And, now, it has an OS that's known to be relatively fail-safe.  After all, if Wind River can handle a Ferrari at 180 miles per hour, it can probably handle whatever you plan to do in your local coffee shop.

What about Microsoft?  If there's an operating system linked with Intel in the public mind, it's Windows. Almost all of the Windows machines you can pick up at Best Buy are stamped "Intel Inside."  Has Intel just served divorce papers on the Redmond software empire?  Probably not.  Yes, it would probably make for a happier relationship between the two tech giants if Intel would just stick by Microsoft's side -- but Intel wants a growth engine that's not tied to the PC market, and Wind River may be it.

Intel has, in the past, shown a willingness to get involved in some surprising places.  With the progress Wind River has made in areas like automotive, aerospace, and smart phones, the chip giant just might be thinking about expanding.  Chips, dipped in software.  It's long been a recipe for a successful tech get-together.

Now, Intel has a new date to the party.

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