On October 6, 1997, in response to the question of what he’d do if he was in charge of Apple Computer, Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell stood before a crowd of several thousand IT executives and answered flippantly, “What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

A little more than a month later, on November 10, 1997, new Apple Interim CEO (iCEO) Steve Jobs responded, speaking in front of an image of Michael Dell’s bulls-eye covered face, “We’re coming after you; you’re in our sights.”

On January 13, 2006, after a little more than eight years of hard work, Apple Inc. passed Dell, Inc. in market value, $72.13 billion vs. $71.97 billion at market close, respectively.

On July 27, 2007, Apple’s value doubled that of Dell’s, $127.81 billion vs. $63.65 billion, respectively.

On December 6, 2007, Apple’s market value passed 3 times that of Dell’s, $165.66 billion vs. $54.42 billion, respectively.

On May 1, 2008, Apple rose $6.05, or 3.48%, to close at $180.00 and the company’s market value passed 4 times that of Dell’s, $158.66 billion vs. $38.97 billion.

Even after the recent market meltdown, and factoring in the $12.12 that Apple gained in after-hours trading today following stellar results, Apple is still worth nearly 4 times that of Dell, $91.79 billion vs. $24.66 billion, respectively.

Not only that, but today, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed that Apple currently has $25 billion in the bank and is a debt-free company.

In other words, Apple could basically buy Dell outright and, oh, what the heck, shut it down and keep the money since they’d be the only shareholders. (Of course, that’d be the kind of horribly-conceived deal only Steve Ballmer would pursue.)

Got any snappy retorts now, Mr. Dell?

AAPL and DELL quotes via NASDAQ are here.

What else would $25 or so billion buy?
Research in Motion – $28.57 billion
Sony (includes Sony Music Entertainment) – $25.43 billlion
• Amazon – $21.39 billion
Activision Blizzard – $17.13 billion
Yahoo – $16.73 billion*
Adobe – $14.65 billion
• Motorola – $12.87 billion
Electronic Arts – $8.98 billion
Autodesk – $5.48 billion**
EMI Group (includes EMI Music) – $3.67 billion
• SanDisk – $3.32 billion
Warner Music Group – $720.67 million***
RealNetworks – $600.47 million****
Palm – $463.20 million
Napster – $126.46 million

*But, that just might kill Ballmer; better to leave him right where he is for as long as it takes.
**Can you say “AutoCAD for Mac OS X at half the price of the Windows version along with the announcement that Windows support would be phased out over a two-year period combined with the offer to double the number of licenses at no extra cost by migrating to Mac OS X?” We knew you could.
***Eliminate the Middlebronfman, indeed.
****Hey, don’t laugh, that’s still a lot of doughnuts!