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Why Dell's private future will mirror its public present

Brad Chacos | Feb. 6, 2013
It's official: Dell (the man) is taking Dell (the company) private once again, with the help of a significant investment by the Silver Lake investment group and a $2 billion--with a "B"--loan from Microsoft. Aside from bankers, though, who cares about the financial details? Titanic events aren't titanic because of the nuts and bolts. It's their impact that's earth-shaking.

"I think the Microsoft investment would incent Dell to stay in the consumer business," Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, told PCWorld.

"They certainly aren't going to get out of the PC market," says NPD's Baker. "PC market clients are a pretty important part of Dell's overall relationship with their customers, and the volumes you get in the PC market are pretty strong. There's an awful lot of overlap between consumers and small businesses, and that's a position that any kind of company in Dell's position needs to be in."

Dell's product lineup is already adjusting to target a higher-end customer. Part of the reason Dell's shipment volumes have slumped in recent quarters is due to its shift away from the commodity PCs the company is so famous for. Instead, Dell has doubled down on more premium PCs, including several Ultrabook models and its XPS lineup. The company also owns Alienware, a well-known gaming machine brand.

Moorhead thinks Microsoft's involvement could lead to a resurgence in Dell's more modestly priced consumer offerings, however. "If anything, it could incent them to be more aggressive price-wise, like the old Dell used to be."

Microsoft's role: Much ado about nothing?

That said, while Microsoft's $2 billion investment may give it a bit of sway over Dell, don't expect the loan to lead to Microsoft imposing its will on the newly privatized company.

"Michael [Dell] would not have struck a deal with Microsoft that puts Dell in a worse position," says Moorhead. "I think the loan gives Microsoft an advantage as far as influencing Dell, but I don't think Microsoft would do anything that would be bad in the long-term for the company."

In fact, most analysts think that Microsoft's loan is more of an investment in the overall PC ecosystem rather than a specific investment in Dell, which jibes with Microsoft's official statement: Microsoft is committed to the long term success of the entire PC ecosystem and invests heavily in a variety of ways to build that ecosystem for the future .

"I think it's similar to other investments Microsoft has made in Nokia and Nook," Baker says. "Microsoft wants a strong ecosystem around the Windows world, whether it's consumer or enterprise. They know they can't do everything themselves."

"Microsoft certainly doesn't want what has traditionally been the number two PC player to lose momentum," IDC's David Daoud told PCWorld. "Certainly, Dell has some enormous relationships with some very large [enterprise] accounts, and it's critical to keep those going and mature."

Microsoft's investment in Dell shouldn't be a detriment to competing Windows manufacturers; Redmond also invested billions in Nokia to bail it out of hot water and keep it operational as a Windows Phone OEM, but that investment hasn't led to Microsoft giving other Windows Phone partners the cold shoulder.


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