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Apple, Dell, Microsoft and life's little ironies

February 05, 2013|By Chris O'Brien
  • In 1997, Apple interim Chief Executive Steve Jobs, seen at the podium, had a big surprise for Macworld attendees: Rival Microsoft had thrown Apple a lifeline by agreeing to invest $150 million to keep the company afloat. As the announcement is made, a gigantic image of Microsoft CEO Bill Gates appears on a video screen behind Jobs, as the audience gasps.
In 1997, Apple interim Chief Executive Steve Jobs, seen at the podium, had… (Julia Malakie/Associated…)

We would be remiss in our coverage of the Dell deal today if we did not point out some of the delicious ironies and coincidences contained therein.

Let us flash back first to 1997. It's Aug. 6, at the Macworld conference in Boston. Apple's interim chief executive, Steve Jobs, takes the stage to make a stunning announcement.

Rival Microsoft has thrown Apple a lifeline by agreeing to invest $150 million to keep the company afloat. As the announcement is made, a gigantic image of Microsoft CEO Bill Gates appears on a video screen behind Jobs, as the audience gasps. 

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"We have to let go of a few notions here," Jobs said that day. "We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft needs to lose."

Two months later, a then young and brash CEO named Michael Dell offered a now infamous assessment of what he would do if he were running then-troubled Apple. 

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders," Dell said.

Ah, ye fickle fingers of fate.  

A little more than 15 years later, and we see how the world is turned upside down. On Tuesday, Dell announced a $24.4-billion deal to take the company private. In essence, giving that money back to the shareholders. 

And who did Dell turn to in its hour of need to help finance the deal? Microsoft, of course, which has made something of a habit of bailing out troubled partners. In this case, Microsoft provided $2 billion in financing for the deal. (Two years ago, Microsoft also agreed to "payments measured in the billions of dollars" to Nokia in exchange for its commitment to Windows' mobile phones.)

Now, if we can get Dell and Apple to bail out Microsoft in 15 years, then our little circle will be complete.

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Follow me on Twitter @obrien.

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