Comparing Apple and its current high-flying position in the market to rival Dell Computer continues to make for some entertaining irony.

A poster over at Slashdot noticed that after Friday's the close of trading Friday, Apple Computer's market capitalization of $72.13 billion (chart here) has eclipsed that of Dell, which is $71.9 billion (chart here). Now the comparison is bit tricky because of the difference in the number of shares trading. Apple has fewer than 843 million shares outstanding, while Dell has more than 2.3 billion shares trading.

Still, Apple and Dell are in vastly different business segments. Dell takes in about as much in quarterly sales as Apple does in a full fiscal year: It's poised to report about $55 billion in sales for the year ended Jan. 28, vs. about $14 billion at Apple for the year ended Sept. 24, 2005. Dell's all about large contracts and low-cost commodity PCs, and much less about rocking the boat with innovation and unconventional industrial design, which is Apple's forte. Dell is who you call when you need a quick-and-dirty Windows machine; Apple is who you call when you want a higher-quality, premium computing experience that costs more but at least for my money is more stable and vastly more satisfying. And of course Apple has a secret weapon in the iPod.

Two months ago I was struck by the irony of a 1997 Michael Dell comment about how he would shut Apple down were he helming that company, and how over the course of eight years, Apple's stock had outperformed that of Dell.

It turns out that Dell was still dissing Apple in 2001. Another Slashdot reader pointed to additional bullish comments Dell made at New York's 92nd Street Y as part of BusinessWeek's "Captains of Industry" series. A rundown on what he said that night at the Y after the jump.

Q: What is the future of Apple Computer?
A: Silicon Graphics.

Q: That bad?
A: Maybe it's a little bit different. But if you look at proprietary computer companies, whether it's Digital or Silicon Graphics or Apple, I think the fates are all relatively similar. We know how the movie ends. It's just a question of what happens in the middle. Apple has a very little customer base. If you look at the economics, it has been extremely hard for Apple to get a return on its R&D with a shrinking volume base. It's not to say that Apple's products aren't innovative or cool, but the economic factors here are so overwhelming, it's very hard for them to swim against that tide.

Q: If you were running Apple, is there anything you could do to change that?
A: I would never take that job.

Don't believe it? Here's an archival video of that appearance, in RealPlayer format. Dell's comments a about Apple appear toward the end. The whole thing runs a little less than an hour and its interesting to watch given how much the industry has changed in the nearly five years that have passed.

I know last year Dell publicly expressed an interest in selling computers running Apple's OS X, which of course Apple would never go along with. But I wonder what he'd have to say about Apple now when publicly reminded of his previous provactive, yet incorrect analysis. Maybe something like this: "Hey, I got it wrong."

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