Where is Dell when you need it?
by George Green
In 1997 Steve Jobs took the role of interim CEO at Apple Computer, returning to a company successors had mismanaged for a decade. Unfortunately for all even when the 'i' came out of the term iCEO, Jobs' untimely death makes it ring true that his days at the helm were far more limited than anyone imagined. At the time, October 6th, 1997, Michael Dell, high on the price of his company's stock laughed when asked what could be done to fix Apple, "What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders". Mac enthusiasts in response created a campaign called 'To Hell with Dell'. At the time Jobs would have been returning 5.45 per share to the shareholders, AAPL was hovering frequently near being de-listed from the NASDAQ. Yet Jobs went on to retain the legacy started when he pioneered personal computing by revolutionizing what personal computing meant with the iPhone, and iPad.
Today for the first time in over ten years people are talking about Dell, but few remember, as I recall at the age of 18, Dells comments about returning the company to the shareholders. A man of his words Dell is doing just that, yet at the same time marketing new products. Dell's latest innovation, if it can be called one, is a PC on a stick. Apple's response to mobile computing, which continues to evolve using interactive communication like Siri, wasn't simply to make it smaller, but to make it more personal, to work with the user even more. Dell's was to literally make the PC really really small; it's a USB thumb drive that can quickly interface with monitors, and keyboards.
In an increasingly wireless world even USB is starting to fade from relevance, calling a disk that quickly configures with the computer an innovation today is a joke. It was an innovation several years ago, over a decade, when in 2001 Apple introduced the iPod. While the Dell's Ophelia comes with Linux pre-loaded, thanks to innovations made by Apple, and incorporated into Android, the first iPod could run Linux and host web sites. At the same time Apple's .mac (today iCloud), was one of the first cloud services, and the iPod became increasingly cloud centric. In 2013 pitching a device that relies on USB to do what an iPod could do twelve years ago seems something less than innovative.
The fact of the matter is that Dell was never innovative. While often credited as the pioneer of Build-to-Order, the concept of Just-in-Time production was well established when Dell, attended the University of Austin. All Dell, the company, has ever really done is on a very large scale do what it did in Room 2713 ob the Dobie Center at that University; build mediocre computers quickly using standard parts that other's created. At the time Michael Dell was hailed a magnate and Jobs considered a fool. Few if any agreed with Dell's give the money back to the share holders and close the doors thoughts, but most felt Apple would be a nice component split of and sold to various innovators at the time ranging from Hewlett Packard, to Disney, which Jobs went on to nearly purchase personally.
One could say that today truly marks the end of the Personal Computer. In fact, before taking up the role of CEO or even returning to Apple, Jobs himself thought that the Personal Computer; sitting on the desk, was over. He was looking for the NeXT big thing, and stated that if he returned to Apple he would do everything possible with the Mac and move on to something new. Dell in over 20 years of watching the computer industry has never done anything new, and today finds itself unable to move on, bringing into question why Michael Dell, who had never done anything new, was ever considered a 'magnate'.
There are two significant things to take away from Dell returning to a private company, and the money being returned to shareholders who've taken an enormous loss. Firstly is fact that the PC is dead; Steve Jobs created it, and created the devices that destroyed it. Something which Microsoft, having poorly succeeded in trying to make a device that is a PC and also a Tablet should consider. The second thing to consider is that the only thing in his entire career Michael Dell has done that is possibly worthy of being called innovative is being absolutely true to his word "If I owned it, I'd take it private and return the money to the investors. In 1997 Mac enthusiasts created a campaign, in response to Dell's short-sighted comments called 'To Hell with Dell'. Michael Dell has taken the Dell company precisely there.
George Edward Green III has been a journalist since 1997, and written for several Technology, Financial, and Libertarian Publications, and lives near L'viv Ukraine.