Dell Between Jobs and Yang

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- While most tech reporters long for stories about Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, I've always been more interested in Michael Dell.

Dell's ( DELL) rise from deep in the heart of Texas to the top of the PC heap in the 1990s tells us that a Silicon Valley address isn't necessary to tech success, that innovation can come from anywhere.

So Dell's fall over the last decade made me personally sad. And it seems that Wall Street actually has a heart, because contrary to what our Richard Cox saw in yesterday's price action, big investors seem to be ready to give Dell back control of the company, as Chris Ciaccia writes.

It's kind of romantic. The founder swoops in to save the day after his company loses its way.

But reality doesn't always make for happy endings. I've seen it many times. For every Steve Jobs you might point to, returning Apple ( AAPL)to glory, I can find you 10 or more Jerry Yangs.

You remember Jerry Yang, don't you? Co-founder and "chief Yahoo" of Yahoo ( YHOO), who returned to his company as CEO after it lost its way and became a media company. He failed, fell from his perch, even left the board last year.

Most entrepreneurs, in fact, are one-trick ponies. They have one great idea, and when that runs out, they're as lost as anyone.

Dell's one great idea was "mass customization," just-in-time manufacturing of PCs to order, minimizing the carrying costs of parts, eliminating the middle man.

That was a great idea back when every PC was different. Once every PC became the same, China replaced Austin as the manufacturing center, and Dell has floundered.

After he returned as CEO in 2007, Michael Dell's new idea was to move operations to western China, to Chengdu, to save a little money over having a base in the more expensive cities near the coast.

But practically before the ink was dry on his 10-year lease at Tianfu Software Park, the game changed. The PC business imploded. Dell tried building its own hybrid cloud, buying out a bunch of cloud software companies under former Computer Associates executive John Swainson, but it's no longer building its own cloud, instead selling a "partner ecosystem."

So Michael Dell is now seeking to take his company private, which as I noted in January is being partly financed by Microsoft.

Fact is, Michael Dell doesn't have a new idea here. He has no record of success in software. Dell's a hardware guy, and the device era killed the U.S. hardware business. It's all software now, and even Microsoft ( MSFT) is having trouble keeping up, losing great heaping handfuls of market share to Apple and its iOS and to Google ( GOOG) with its Android.

For Dell's deal to work, in other words, Microsoft Windows 8.1 has to do better than Windows 8 did. Dell and Silver Lake Partners are betting that Dell can do for Windows devices what he once did for Windows PCs back in the day.

Maybe he can bring in a bunch of different-sized screens, and keyboards, and backplanes from Chengdu, giving people whatever device they want, whatever size, Windows or Android, and bring back the old days. Maybe vaudeville is coming back.

As I said, it is kind of romantic. I'm really rooting for him. But, based on today's technology trends, Michael Dell's taking his company private may well be his last act.

At the time of publication, the author was long Apple, Yahoo and Google

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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