Dell kicks off user conference, touts Net as 'weapon'

Dell CEO focuses on Internet's implications for business.

Dell Computer's DirectConnect user conference may be the first of its kind, but the keynote that kicked it off Wednesday was not. Instead, Dell CEO Michael Dell hammered home the tried but true message that the Internet is fundamentally changing the industry.

Speaking before an audience of more that 1200 customers at the Austin Convention Center, Dell said the Internet will be used by them or against them as it grows. "The Internet is like a weapon sitting on a table, waiting to be used by either you or your competition," he said.

Dell said his company plans to grow by using the Internet to increase customers' efficiency in running their own businesses as well as to improve the way it works with customers. For instance, Dell is launching a service called valuechain.com, which will enable suppliers to log on to a Dell network to see how fast their products are moving through production lines. Another upcoming service, to be installed on hardware this fall, will enable servers to communicate with an online help desk at Dell. IT managers will send troubleshooting messages to Dell, and Dell's help desk will run diagnostic tests online.

"It's the beginning of what we call self-healing systems," he said.

Dell also discussed the Dell Resolution Assistant, a feature to be included on an upcoming PC code-named Webster, due in October. This client service enables any Dell user to get online support from the company.

(Alas, today's demonstration indicated that users might still be better off getting help on the phone rather than online. Dell was joined onstage by Senior Vice President Karl Everett to demo a scenario in which a user opens a Microsoft Word file that contains macros. The user can then dial into the help desk and have the help desk check for viruses. In the demo, the help desk identified a virus and sent directions to clean the virus. Everett hit the "clean" button on the Resolution Assistant. At that point, he received a message that the file could not be cleaned and he should delete it. Everett kept trying to close the message without hitting "delete", delaying the demo until audience members yelled out, "Hit delete!")

Dell also discussed a service called Direct Commerce Integration, which will link customers' ERP software with their Dell Premier Pages. In addition, he demonstrated voice-data integration, showing how he could call into his Microsoft Exchange mail and receive a synthesised voice rendition of his email messages.

The example was a supposed message from Compaq Computer CEO Michael Capellas asking Dell for service advice.

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