There had been runup, but this week it was official: Dell’s being bought out. Michael Dell leads an effort to take his namesake private again, putting up his own billions. Most funds, though, are from an investor group; they will buy up company stock in circulation. Presumably it’s to perform major surgery that shareholders en masse would find distasteful, but is probably bitter medicine.
Dell (the company and the man) built a global business on cheap PCs. IBM started the platform, but Dell made it a machine. An operation to make so many PCs, so efficiently, that few could compete on price alone. And it worked; Dell sold boxes to desks everywhere, which in turn made many “Dellionaires.” Some of the boxes hinged, as cheapening PCs spread into cheapening laptops. That tail wagged the dog, however: cheapening laptops spread into cheapening mobile platforms (smartphones and tablets), while Dell stood by. Says tech writer Dan Lyons:
I recall very clearly a conversation with Michael Dell where he told me that these little PDAs and phones were never going to be a big deal because who would ever want to read things on such a tiny screen? No, he assured me, the PC had a strong, vibrant future ahead of it.
I had a Dell, and then another, and then another. Paid for by my job. But with my own money, I chose to buy a custom PC, then later a PDA, a better PDA, later a feature phone, then a smartphone. The Dells became furniture, the data equivalent of Muzak. We now know that furniture isn’t making Dellionaires, it’s consuming them. The (user) future is small, efficient, and agile; users know that won’t be cheap. Just like IBM/Lenovo now knows.
One of those other buyout investors is Microsoft itself. More than a few of my friends, coworkers, and acquaintances have noted Windows 8, and by “noted,” I mean “suffered.” Microsoft, too, did little for the device onslaught, insisting that their baby Windows could be patched into mobility. Sorry, Redmond; sometimes the future trickles in, and sometimes it’s transformative.