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Michael Dell dishes on Meg Whitman, the PC biz, and EMC

The CEO of Dell on Tuesday defended his company’s $67 billion planned acquisition of EMC from caustic comments by Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman and emphasized Dell’s commitment to consumer and corporate PCs.

Speaking at Dell World, his company’s annual customer conference, Michael Dell kept mum on what he called version 1.0 of the “unifying theory of the universe” that would result from the acquisition of EMC (EMC) on enterprise services, software and hardware. He promised to say more on Wednesday.

Whitman explained her skepticism of the merger—which Dell rebutted—earlier this month in in a memo to HP employees.

She told them:

“This [Dell EMC merger] is a real opportunity for HP (HPQ). Two of our largest competitors are attempting a highly distracting, multi-year merger, just as we are launching two new, focused companies. The massive debt burden Dell and EMC are taking on undoubtedly means that they will have to radically reduce R&D, and integration inevitably will create disruption as they rationalize product portfolios, channel programs, and leadership. While Dell and EMC are sorting out their future, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc. will be working to take share and advance our technology leadership in key areas like converged infrastructure, private cloud, all-flash storage, personal systems and printing.”

When asked about Whitman’s comments on Tuesday, Dell’s chief executive said, “I think HP is a great VMware partner. I don’t have any other comment.” He waited a beat, then added: “I think she got some of the facts wrong. We’ll let the facts speak for themselves.”

That statement plays into another theme that seemed to come up repeatedly during Dell’s event: the threat of Dell entering the public cloud business only to find itself in competition with its own customers. (Dell has a sizable business selling servers and other data center gear to companies that build public and private clouds.) When asked if Dell’s acquisition of EMC (EMC)—and thus VMware (VMW) and its newly launched cloud unit under the Virtustream brand—positioned the company as a competitor to its existing customers, the CEO said, “We’re comfortable with the steps being taken.”

Another Dell executive expanded on the chief executive’s hints: “Most cloud and web technology providers are our customers. We would rather enable our customers than compete with our customers.”

It wasn’t all political niceties. Dell avoided Fortune’s question about whether the deal was a response to slower growth in the enterprise IT world and the need to become a bigger fish in a shrinking pond, or as a way for Dell to compete with Amazon (AMZN) and other public cloud providers. Dell’s response? “No.” In a later conversation Dell added that not all enterprises were going to run everything on the public cloud and the opportunity with Dell and EMC would be to provide a variety of options from Open Stack, public cloud or private clouds hosted on VMware. Dell would offer the underlying hardware to the cloud vendors and the software for the customers to help them manage their IT.

Convergence is going to be the word of choice for drinking games played over the next few days at Dell World.

Meanwhile, the one area where Dell wasn’t ambiguous or coy was the PC market. He clearly stated the company was committed to staying in that market and said it had grown 10% in China in the last quarter. Dell’s focus on the PC may not net it huge gains in the U.S., but in China Dell has opened 12,000 exclusive Dell stores and sees an opportunity to put PCs in more homes. A Dell executive said the PC penetration in Chinese homes is only 35%, and in India it is only 10% compared with more than 90% home penetration in the U.S.

Jeff Clarke, vice chairman, operations and president, at Dell, said that in his view Dell will be a consolidator in the consolidating PC market, and it has a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to grow in those countries. No one asked about the possibility of those non-PC homes skipping laptops and desktops and going straight to mobile phones or tablets.

For more on EMC-Dell-VMware see the video:

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