The $16bn deal that will see Dell heavily use IBM's state-of-the-art components could be the just the precursor to the far more important development of a virtual company that combines the former's top-class supply chain and fulfilment with the latter's leading research and development.
Whatever IBM's woes over the last decade it remains a world leader in product innovation. It is granted more patents than almost any other company and can point to any number of groundbreaking developments from the smallest component to the personal computer architecture that have revolutionised information delivery and office automation.
Dell's strengths are the polar opposite. It spends only a very small amount of R&D even if it is highly sensitive to accusations of being a box-shifter and has had its own triumphs, often in mobile PC design. But Dell's ace in the hole is its unparalleled ability to deliver products through a build-to-order model that seems to run on greased castors.
The pair today hinted at future "joint developments" and further agreements without specifying details, although Dell UK boss Brian McBride was plain-spoken. "The nice thing is that I've now got three companies doing my R&D for me: IBM, Intel and Microsoft," he said. "Compaq has to invest in operating systems and chips. There's no way I'm going to help IBM with their PC business."
However, even if we don't see anything as dramatic as IBM outsourcing PC sales to Dell, or Dell reselling AS/400 and RS/6000 boxes, such a huge commitment suggests there will be plenty of technical and marketing deals internally between the pair.
Even as it stands, the deal is a win-win for both players. IBM pockets a huge amount of revenue, Dell presumably gets nice discounts on components. But matchmakers who see a beautiful fit between these two will be on the lookout for plenty of collaboration on Web sales, services and other neutral ground areas.
Watch this space.