The struggle to sell servers in a slow economy has brought out the fighting spirit in Dell Computer chief executive officer Michael Dell, who was found slinging barbs at competitors during this week's Comdex trade show.
As could only happen in Las Vegas, Dell mingled with press, analysts and a team of celebrity impersonators at an event on Monday evening. A faux Joan Rivers and an ersatz Madonna showed off the latest Dell laptops and PCs, while the company's founder sipped Evian water over an army of hors d'oeuvres.
The festivities, however, were not enough to keep the Comdex attendees at bay, as company founder Dell was cornered in the cocktail lounge and bombarded with questions about his company.
Dell took particular aim at Sun Microsystems as the two companies continue to heat up their rivalry.
"[Sun] is the Apple of the server world," Dell said, while answering questions from press and analysts.
Dell charged that Sun has put itself in a similar position to Apple Computer by keeping its Solaris operating system and UltraSparc chip technology proprietary. Dell clearly favours the lower-end but more widely used products from Microsoft and Intel and charged that Sun is backing itself into a corner by moving away from these platforms.
Sun recently launched new low-end servers and cut the prices on its hardware to match that of similar products from Dell. Systems from Sun have typically been more expensive because of the high-end stability and performance features the company offers, but the company now intends to match Dell dollar for dollar on the low end.
Dell, however, was confident that his company can counter Sun's attack as Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor matures. When Intel releases its second generation Itanium chip next year, Dell will be able to compete on a more even playing field with regard to performance and also use the popularity of Intel chips to drive server costs lower, Dell said.
"Itanium will certainly help us push on the high-end," Dell said.
While Dell called Sun an "island" in the industry and said the company has some tough times ahead of it, he was not ready to predict Sun's demise just yet as some Itanium supporters have done.
"I don't think you can count them out," he said.
Dell did not shy from attacking fellow Itanium supporters either, mocking the turmoil surrounding the Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer merger.
"It's like a soap opera," he said.
The children of both HP founders have moved to stop the planned merger -- a situation which only helps Dell, he said. The company will go after HP and Compaq customers while uncertainty surrounds both companies' future.