Based on preliminary information, Hewlett-Packard (HP) CEO Carly Fiorina declared victory in her company's bid to purchase Compaq and consummate the largest merger in the computer industry's history. But opponents led by Walter B. Hewlett, a descendent of the HP cofounder, aren't so sure; Hewlett says that the shareholder vote that will decide the merger's fate is too close to call and will take months to finalize.

"We are gratified that HP shareowners recognize the compelling strategic and economic benefits of the merger," Fiorina said after an HP shareholder meeting in Cupertino, California, yesterday. Fiorina has been championing the merger since September 2001, when HP and Compaq first announced the deal.

An independent third party tallies the official shareholder vote, and shareholders can question the validity of particular votes by members of HP's executive board or by the group that's opposed to the deal--almost indefinitely, until the results are clear. So far, the votes appear to be split along obvious lines: The company's largest corporate investors have primarily voted for the merger; individual and smaller corporate investors have generally backed Hewlett's opposition stance. Fortunately for Fiorina and company, the larger corporate investors control about 57 percent of HP's stock. HP has about 900,000 shareholders.