There's a lot of confusing legal language being thrown around today about Dell continuing its plan to go private, and Microsoft's involvement. But it's not actually that complicated. Here's a relatively simple breakdown of what we know is going on.
Starting with today's news, Microsoft is getting involved with a $1-3 billion investment to assist Dell. Simple enough. That money would go toward buying back shares of Dell that were sold while Dell was a public company, beginning in 1988. That investment is necessary, because buying up shares is expensive, and even though Dell has a lot of cash on hand (a rarity for PC makers right now, actually), going into debt to go private would limit what it could do strategy-wise.
The Microsoft investment would be "mezzanine" capital. That means it could convert to equity in the company if not paid back, possibly in a way that would be advantageous to Microsoft. What does that mean for you, as a consumer? If Microsoft does end up with significant equity in Dell, things probably wouldn't change too much. Dell is already bounding down the Windows 8-centric path, and readily adopting new tech and standards from both Microsoft and Intel. An Intel executive we spoke with at CES commented, "They haven't really been doing too well, so they've been very willing to adopt new tech and play catch up." That wouldn't change too much with Microsoft having a say.
And while we're here, let's take a moment to set straight a common misconception that's cropped up since word first came down that Dell was looking to go private. It does not spell the "beginning of the end" for Dell. In fact, it's probably encouraging. Private companies can take risks and initiate long term strategies that are more difficult for public companies. Successfully going private, if accomplished efficiently, should be seen as a move to get streamlined and ready for the future, where PCs aren't the dominant form of computing.
So what's up with Dell and Microsoft? Microsoft might help Dell out with some cash, and might get some stock in return. That's more or less it.