In high-tech circles, Steve Jobs is famous for making believers of the most grizzled cynics. On Nov. 11, Apple Computer's acting CEO declared marketing war on Dell Computer. But making this a credible threat may take more charm than even Jobs can muster.

Yes, Jobs unveiled an online store to sell Macs via the Internet, a la Dell. And Apple has a long list of potential customers to reach via direct mail.

That's where the similarities end. Apple's Macs, including the new models Jobs trotted out on Nov. 10, are relatively pricey. And Apple can't undercut dealers as Dell does because it counts on retailers for almost all of its sales. Moreover, while Dell has long been perfecting the delivery of built-to-order PCs, Apple will face tough issues of quality control and just-in-time parts delivery. And Jobs' reputation for showmanship far outshines his record: After founding NeXT Computer in 1985, he built a factory too big for the company's needs. It was running at roughly 50% capacity when NeXT exited hardware in 1993.

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