Don't Eat The Baloney

Get a load of the grist companies are serving up today

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Dell has a revolutionary new PC, the OptiPlex SX280, that it says breaks new ground for cutting-edge design. "A revolutionary PC with no footprint," its advertisement boasts. Yeah, right. The only way this ill-conceived freak of a PC could break new ground is if you were to heave it off a building and pray it makes a dent in the sidewalk.

Similar in concept to the new Apple G5 iMac, which perfectly melds the PC and monitor into a single, solid block, the Dell OptiPlex SX280 aims high but comes up a little short. That's in part because the product is a hunchback in comparison to the G5, with a box of PC innards slapped behind a monitor in a most inelegant way. Unlike the graceful iMac, which sits perfectly balanced atop a scoop of stainless steel, the OptiPlex SX280 sits atop a little black stool with ungainly knobs that keep the device secure. Dell's headline dares to ask if you can find the PC. You mean the black hunk that looks like a parachute strapped to a soldier's back? Guess that explains why Dell expects consumers to take a flying leap when they see it.

This isn't the first time the Round Rock, Texas-based leader in PCs has tried to follow Apple with a less-than-convincing knock-off. Remember the little Digital Jukebox Music Player? It was supposed to help Dell compete with the Apple iPod, but failed to generate little more than derision. In fact, the iPod's kid sister, the Apple iPod mini, proved to be superior to the Dell unit. And as we all know, you can't sink much lower than having your butt kicked by a mini-me.

Given that a lot of people in advertising use Macs, the copywriter who wrote the ad copy for the new OptiPlex SX280 must have been laughing his or her ass off when espousing the virtues of the dreadfully executed concept. Then again, maybe not. The way many people have been talking lately, you would have thought they, too, would have laughed their asses off by now--either that or stairmastered them into reasonable shape. Yet, big butts and laughable claims abound. Take what Oracle executives now say about PeopleSoft, the enterprise applications rival they just swallowed.

Bronwyn Hastings, vice president of Oracle worldwide alliances and channels, recently told VARBusiness that it will be business as usual for the company's PeopleSoft partners. Really? So the 5,000 people who her superiors plan on laying off at PeopleSoft were doing what, exactly, for the past few years? Nothing? They must have been if it's going to be "business as usual." Like anywhere, I'm sure there were a few slackers in their midst, but 5,000 of 5,000? Doubtful.

There's more, of course. EDS CEO Michael Jordan thinks his company will be more competitive once it trims 15,000 to 20,000 people, or roughly 10 percent of its workforce, from its payroll. No doubt it will be cheaper to run EDS with 15,000 fewer people. But more competitive? Well, that again assumes the 15,000 expected to leave were essentially just getting in the way.

Who else is asking us to buy into a lot? Try Hewlett-Packard. Its board wants to reduce the amount of decisions that CEO Carly Fiorina is involved in. But that's not to say it doesn't have complete confidence in her ability to lead. Sure. That leaves the rest of us to surmise what--that Fiorina will be a better leader if relieved of those pesky decisions that other CEOs routinely make? Hmmm.

Not to pick on HP, which is doing many things well, but it has also volunteered another curious little nugget of incredulity of late. In an interview with VARBusiness, executive vice president Vyomesh Joshi says the company decided to combine its PC and printer divisions only after Duane Zitzner, the executive vice president formerly in charge of the company's computing operations, resigned. If a Fortune 500 company really makes decisions about a combined business worth billions based on who wants to lower his or her golf handicap, then maybe HP's board is onto something.

OK: one more thought on HP. It's awfully difficult to understand how transferring chip engineers to Intel demonstrates HP's ongoing support for the Itanium platform. Yes, the additional $3 billion that HP pledged to help jump-start Intel Itanium sales helps. But most are still under the impression that HP is running away.

How do bad ideas, spin and stretched truths of this magnitude creep into companies? Competitive pressures, corporate cultures and executive perks explain only part of the baloney that companies serve up. The rest lies with the people they hire, promote and showcase. Some just love serving the baloney. It goes with the Kool-Aid they drink.

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