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Back In The Swing And Dell's Trying Times

Thursday, 1 Mar 2007 | 9:15 AM ET

Hey everyone. I know it's been an exceedingly long time since my last post, and I'm eager to get back into the swing of things with regular, daily, and hopefully a few times a day ruminations and breaking news about the newsy things happening here in the Silicon Valley. I've been out of the office for a time, and almost overwhelmed with the amount of news in the technology world these last few weeks that, if you can believe it, has afforded me next to no time whatsoever to update my blog. I hope you caught my exclusive video interviews this week with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director Jon Dudas, and Verisign CEO Stratton Sclavos (see below). Anyhow, my apologies, the blog begins anew now.

Dell Optiplex GX620 desktop
AP
Dell Optiplex GX620 desktop

To that end, Thursday will be a big day in the technology world thanks to earnings from Dell after the bell. To say these have been trying times for what once was the world's largest PC maker is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. The company is expected to report 29 cents on $14.88 Billion in revenue for its fiscal fourth quarter, based on Thompson Financial. But the numbers are the easy part.

Far more attention will be paid to the company's conference call, which this time around, will not feature former CEO Kevin Rollins who was dismissed from the company January 31. Instead, Michael Dell is expected to be on the call with his new CFO Donald Carty, who used to run American Airlines parent AMR . Not to mention the additions of Michael Cannon, Solectron's former CEO who will now run Dell's worldwide manufacturing; and Ron Garriques who some saw as Ed Zander's heir apparent at Motorola .

Lots of changes in the hallowed executive halls of Dell, where Dell himself and Rollins used to share a cube. Dell's making a slew of management changes to show that his company is more than merely a cozy relationship between founder and CEO that ultimately crashed and burned after series of embarrassing financial and quality control issues that dogged the company into Wall Street damnation last year.

The stakes this time around are huge. Monumental. The company continues to lose ground against rival Hewlett-Packard , which has mostly kept the blustery competitive rhetoric to itself, even though it has plenty to crow about. And Dell's numbers will likely send a ripple through HP, Intel, AMD and Microsoft.

The bigger problems for Dell the company and Dell the returning CEO: Addressing a federal

Intel Core 2 Duo Processor
AP
Intel Core 2 Duo Processor

investigation into past accounting practices that could ensnare chip supplier Intel Corp . and the two companies' marketing and advertising relationships. Deals that were sealed during Rollins' tenure and something Michael Dell will be forced to clean up.

Dell's relationship with the Street remains tenuous. Some remain cautiously optimistic, but that's about as good as it gets for the beleaguered company. Others, like ThinkEquity's Eric Ross, say any meaningful turnaround, if one were to actually happen, is still several quarters away. And that's only if Michael Dell can somehow harness the "vision thing" that Steve Jobs has always been so good at.

To borrow a Lloyd Bentsen line: I know Steve Jobs. I've interviewed Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs is one of the world's great masterful marketers (suffering his own problems, mind you). Michael Dell is no Steve Jobs. And that's too bad. Because it will take a master marketer to re-ignite some sense of excitement for the folks at Dell. Don't underestimate just how difficult a proposition that truly is.

Dell shares have been flat this past quarter as investors wonder what to do next. The hope is that Dell the man knows what to do next to rebuild the company he built in the first place. We'll get the first hints of that strategy during the highly anticipated conference call after the bell later on Thursday.

Stay tuned.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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