All Kinds of Crazy

 | Dec 06, 2012 | 7:39 AM EST
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Every time I hear something about John McAfee, which, given this crazy man's predilection for nonstop publicity, is too often, I think about how Intel paid $7.7 billion a little more than two years ago for the software security company that this oddball created. And I wonder which actions, John McAfee's or Intel's (INTC) are more stupefying.

McAfee (MFE), the company, had been shopped for ages, apparently about as long as the ignominious Autonomy was, before Intel gave shareholders a 62% premium when it snapped up the company. At the time, it was a real head-scratcher.

What was the point of the semiconductor company moving aggressively into security software when the real issue it faced was the mobility challenge and the secondary issue it faced was the Apple (AAPL) challenge, meaning how would it be able to get more content into the fastest-growing tech gadget company on the planet?

At the time, Apple had made a decision that it was going to base its new mobile products on chips designed by Arm Holdings (ARMH), not Intel, even as Intel had some exposure to iMacs and we thought that the two companies had a decent working relationship.

Subsequently, we have learned two things. First, Steve Jobs didn't care for Intel. We know from Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography that even though Jobs was friendly with former Intel CEO Andy Grove, he thought the company was stodgy and very difficult to work with. Just different DNA. Second, Jobs was constantly trying to stop the battery drain, believing, correctly, that the longer you could go without recharging the more satisfied you would be, and Arm Holdings' chips gave you a longer battery life than Intel's.

Now here's the irony. Intel could have paid roughly the same price for Arm Holdings as it did for McAfee. Since then, Arm shares have doubled, as the Apple orders keep flowing. Intel? It's done almost nothing, and the McAfee acquisition almost seems like an afterthought when the company talks.

The real tragedy for Intel here is that Samsung, Apple's chief rival globally, is also a major chip supplier to Apple. They are suing each other all over the place. There is palpable dislike. You would think that this would be the moment that Intel could step up and make the chips that Apple needs, and it has mobility chips which are used in white label Intel phones in emerging markets all over the globe.

But it lacks the foothold that Arm would have given them, and McAfee certainly can't.

Worse now, yesterday, we heard rumors that Apple may replace Intel in its Mac line. Again, if Intel owned Arm it would be far more difficult for the company to be dislodged from the Apple food chain.

McAfee, the, man is a total conundrum. McAfee, the company, remains one, too. A botched acquisition and an overpay instead of one that would have levered Intel to the greatest tech company of all time.

Just baffling moves all the way around.

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