But neither was able to break away from the core businesses, and HPQ, in the end, made the disastrous decision to overpay for Autonomy, shelling out more than $10 billion for this global enterprise software company.
We had a real horse race between these two for a bit about who was the PC champion, but suddenly Apple (AAPL) came in with game-changing technology, both the iPhone and then, devastatingly, the iPad and poof, there went the hold on business and consumer that these two giants had. They now seem like two Goliaths to Apple's David, not unlike what Digital Equipment and Data General became when Intel and Microsoft delivered their one-two punch in the late 1980s. This time, proprietary trumped commodity because proprietary was simply a better universe.
Now people are going to say don't worry, there's good value here. They are going to point to balance sheets as evidence. But right until the end, Data General had a fabulous balance sheet, and DEC's wasn't anything to laugh at. But they had lost the technology battle to a better mousetrap.
It has happened again. With these two disastrous quarters, Hewlett-Packard and Dell are well on their way to being the next Digital Equipment and Data General. Sad, but true, and without some real miracles the end will be similarly painful. At least Data General got a low-ball bid from EMC (EMC) in 1999. Digital Equipment? It just disappeared, with the remains sold to, alas, Compaq and they rest in peace at none other than Hewlett-Packard.At the time of publication, Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer co-manages as a charitable trust, was long AAPL.