AT LARGE: I beg your pardon?

AT LARGE: I beg your pardon?

I think there's been a misunderstanding. Carly Fiorina, CEO of the conservative and sensible Hewlett-Packard, keeper of the flame that ignited Silicon Valley, must surely have been misquoted.

I imagine a scenario in which she was checking over her salary package, and happened to glance at a luxury motoring magazine. Whilst thinking aloud about whether to buy a lavish company car, someone happened into her office and prompted her to ask, would William Hewlett or David Packard spend so much money on a vehicle at such a financially straitened time?

No, of course not, she thought. And then, softly, so that only one unreliable witness could hear, she said, "I think I'll acquire a compact".

I don't know that any of the above took place at all. But if it did take place, I think someone ought to call a stop to all this madness before it gets out of hand. Apologies to the press and investors, get Fiorina a Daihatsu.

The above scenario just somehow seems more probable to me than HP buying Compaq. The big surprise isn't really that HP is taking over a rival vendor - that's happened before. And it's not a surprise that Compaq has found the going tougher than expected after swallowing Digital - the signs have been there.

What's surprising is that HP had $47 billion to spend. I don't know if you've noticed, but times have been pretty damn tough.

Granted, HP has been around long enough that it's built a little nest-egg against hard times. But $47 billion? I read that and immediately checked my own bank balance, just in case money had magically appeared there as well. (Disappointingly, it had not.)And also, why Compaq? Other companies have synergy with HP's business, why acquire something that big, complicated and expensive? What about Packard-Bell? Acer has a lot to offer too. There are other, more manageable opportunities out there for a company looking for a quick-fix growth spurt.

Why doesn't anyone acquire Dell? It'd be a heckuvalot cheaper than Compaq, and frankly I reckon a bit of the old hostile takeover upside the head would wipe the smirk off that channel-hating upstart double-quick.

But do people listen to sound business advice like that? No.

Instead, HP now finds itself the proud owner of a company founded on the noble principle that one day it would be bigger than IBM (and even the combined company falls short of that goal).

I can hear Hewlett and Packard now: "We bought what?"

Matthew JC. Powell will be another year older by the time you read this. Commiserate on

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