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Kewney: Of MMX and Acronyms

In an industry littered with acronyms and trademarks, the potential for collision is always available.

At a media briefing today on the forthcoming Pentium II processor, Intel remarked that the "multimedia extensions" in this chip made it ideal for CAD workstations. An innocent question from this reporter: "These multimedia extensions ... what are they?" Answer: "They are the 57 instructions added to the Pentium instruction set." There followed a pause: it lasted maybe three nanoseconds before Intel's spin ambulance arrived on the scene. "He's referring to the multimedia enhancements, which are trademarked under the name MMX. Of course, MMX is not an acronym."

The panic was probably justified. Intel has sued both Cyrix and AMD for using the phrase "MMX", saying that the two companies were adopting "strategies to improperly leverage Intel's enormous investment in the MMX trademark" and that plans by those two companies will confuse consumers.

The basis of Intel's lawsuit is that "MMX" is not an acronym. Of course, everybody knows it was - or was originally announced as such. Worse: Intel has not yet been granted trademark status for the acronym. Worse still: AMD has a cross-patent agreement with Intel which gives it full rights to execute MMX instructions and clearly, it is entitled to reveal this fact to customers.

If we are actually worried about the danger of "confusing customers" then the thing to avoid is any marketing ploy which seeks to pretend that MMX and the multimedia enhancements are somehow different. This, of course, is really not a problem for Intel. The fact is that AMD is preparing a corporate AMD Inside-type marketing program which will emphasise the compatibility of AMD's new chip, code-named K6, and Intel's Pentium II.

The real danger is not that consumers will be confused. The real danger, to Intel, is that consumers will discover that the AMD chip (and possibly the Cyrix M2) are running MMX, and running it faster than Pentium II. The really important thing is to make sure that consumers are as confused as possible.