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Microsoft And Dell: Tech's Biggest Sore Losers

Why are Microsoft and Dell seeking to temper enthusiasm about a possible warming trend in our winter of economic discontent? Are they more skillful progonsticators than other tech bellwethers, or are they simply trying to protect their collective behinds behind the recession's macroeconomic skirts?

Steve Ballmer must be preparing for his second career by reading economist Nouriel Roubini, because he's taken to larding his remarks about Microsoft with macroeconomic blather and historical references to RCA and other tech behemoths of the past. Ballmer told Walt Mossberg at the D7 conference last week that Microsoft is doing "a lot of soul-searching," and he's apparently concluded that we're far from out of the woods.

Is this [economic situation] a 50-year phenomenon? I don't think so. But it's not going to be over in three months, either.
Michael Dell was not much more sanguine, but at least put his company's performance into a global context, saying prospects are less good for a quick recovery in international markets than in the U.S. Dell also noted that "indicators of global IT demand remain mixed."

That said, Cisco, HP and Intel aren't exactly small local providers, and their views are decidedly cheerier. But maybe that's because they've made wiser investments than their surlier counterparts.

Cisco CEO John Chambers resolutely told Reuters that, "IT is back. Network IT is back in a big way because it enables the other segments of IT." An important note here is that Cisco is far from dependent on networking for its revenues; it has recently entered the server market and has been ramping up its efforts for converged data and voice systems.

Indeed, over the last nine months, sales of so-called "advanced technologies" -- products not included in Cisco's traditional routers and switches segments -- rose by 3 basis points, which management chalked up to "increased adoption of our web-based collaborative applications," in its most recent quarterly filing.

Intel's CEO, Paul Otellini, said the chipmaker thinks "PC sales bottomed out during the first quarter and that the industry is returning to normal seasonal patterns." And the company has plenty of reason to be hopeful about sales of its Atom-powered netbook, which could take advantage of a growing segment of the laptop market.

Even HP also struck a somewhat optimistic note; CEO Mark Hurd told Reuters the company had seen "pockets of improvements." Not exactly a full-throated cry of joy, but a careful acknowledgment of a thaw.

So Cisco, which has diversified into servers, and HP and Intel, which have recently diversified into netbooks, see brighter prospects for the next few months.

Microsoft, in the meantime, is investing close to a hundred million dollars in a market, search, where it doesn't have a hope in hell of making any headway. And Dell can't seem to figure out how to spend its money and has tried to hire an acquisitions chief who can't get free of his former employer. Those don't seem like economic issues to me; they seem more like management issues.

[Image source: Wikimedia Commons]