Comdex: Dell and HP differ on customer service

HP goes for software, Dell bets on hardware

In back-to-back keynotes at Comdex Las Vegas Monday both Dell and HP presidents agreed that the most important factor in the PC industry going forward was customers but while Michael Dell was betting his dollar on hardware, his rival at Hewlett Packard Carly Fiorina is backing services.

Customers will dictate how the new Internet emerges both agreed. Fiorina pointed out that how people use the Web is becoming more important than the technology driving it while Michael Dell restated his determination to remain "customer driven".

In order to cater more directly to customers many PC firms -- including Hewlett Packard -- are extending their remit beyond traditional hardware to developing e-services. But while Fiorina believes the future lies in such tailored services, Dell has no plans to turn his customised PC firm into a services industry.

"We are focused on services that complement and support the hardware and don't have any plans to go beyond that," he said. Instead Dell sees the future lying more in the server and storage markets, which he regards as even more important that developing technologies. "Handhelds, MP3 players as they grow we will probably get involved but they are nowhere near as important as servers and storage," he said.

Both acknowledged the importance of wireless. Dell remains convinced that the wireless future lies with notebooks. "The real win in wireless is in notebooks and people are far more likely to access the Internet from a notebook than from a mobile phone," he said.

To reiterate this he announced that all future Dell notebooks will come with wireless capability. Fiorina also had a wireless announcement; a deal with Nokia that will see all HP printers able to print documents via a Nokia phone.

There was also acknowledgements from both about the importance of open standards. Dell claimed he was "committed to Linux" and listed investments his firm has made in companies like Red Hat, LinuxCare and TurboLinux to underscore his commitment to the open source operating system.

Fiorina takes a more general view, claiming that only a future where companies employ open standards will prevent the Internet era, which she describes as the "second Renaissance" falling back into the dark ages. "The Internet is less and less defined by few companies and more and more by groups of individuals," she said.

Neither speaker could resist a comment on the ongoing US election debacle. Fiorina used it to joke off Monday morning's bad earnings report. "Can chief executives demand a recount?" she asked. Michael Dell opened his speech claiming he had been talking to "a friend down in Austin". "He happens to be the Governor and both him and me could do with fifteen more points," he joked. On a more serious note, Dell warned that election uncertainty could only be bad for the tech industry.

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Fall 2000 Special Report.

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