For Whom the Dell Tolls

Since founding Dell Computer in his Texas dorm room in 1984, Michael Dell has steadily, inexorably grown his company into the largest PC manufacturer in the world. The firm, based in Austin, Texas, has overtaken the box business's best-known makers—IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard among them—by executing its unorthodox, build-to-order manufacturing formula. Dell Computer isn't known for product innovation. It wins by being efficient, relentlessly so. In the competitive and increasingly commoditized computer industry, Dell's cherub-faced founder and CEO may be the closest thing there is to an irresistible force.

For every irresistible force, there's an immovable object. Dell...

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