Dell bares it all on 'naked' PC?

The computer maker shows its support for Linux but seems elusive in the way it markets systems without pre-installed operating systems on its Web site.

Dell Computer's latest move to offer a 'naked' PC will not be available in Asia, for now, according to a Singapore-based spokesperson for the company.
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Introduced in the United States early this month, the Dell Dimension E510n business desktop is targeted at companies that want to use the open-source Linux platform, or that have already pre-purchased Microsoft Windows through licensing programs. Such machines, sold without pre-installed operating systems, are commonly called "naked PCs".

The spokesperson from Dell Asia told ZDNet Asia that the company is currently assessing demand for the Dimension E510n business desktop in the Asia-Pacific region. "Bringing a product into this region depends on the business demands and needs from the various (Asian) markets," he said.

When news broke, it seemed the hardware maker was building on its efforts to support Linux. The company had already invested about US$100 million in Red Hat, and sells PCs and servers such as the PowerEdge SC430, which can be installed with Red Hat Linux, SuSE Linux or Windows Server 2003.

A check on Dell's Web site, however, showed that the elusive Dimension E510n was nowhere listed on the homepage of its n Series desktops--the company's line of PCs that ship without an operating system. Performing a search within Dell's Web site for "E510n" also showed no results.

To get details about the system, users have to enter a specific Internet address that takes them to a dedicated E510n Web page. The same page can also be accessed by performing a search on Google.

The Dell spokesperson could not comment on contents related to the company's U.S. Web site.

Extra economical?
Dell states on its Web site that the n Series is "extra economical because they come without a Microsoft operating system". But a price comparison shows otherwise, at least for now.

The Dell Dimension 5150n, for example, costs US$689. This is currently higher than a Dimension 5150 business desktop, which has similar system specifications and sells for US$619 with Windows XP Home Edition pre-installed.

The Dell spokesperson, however, clarified that the price of the Dimension 5150 is quoted based on a time-limited US$100 discount. Its usual price of US$719 is in fact, US$30 higher than the Dimension 5150n, he said.

IT executive Jackson Law said he would choose the Dimension 5150 in any case, even with the price difference. Law, who heads the IT department of publishing house TTG Asia Media, noted that even without the rebate, "for US$30 more, I can get a Windows license".

Windows XP Home Edition Service Pack 2 is priced at US$199.99, if purchased off-the-shelf at retail stores, but it is typically acquired for a lower price by OEM vendors that ship PCs with the OS pre-installed.

Notwithstanding, desktop Linux still has a long way to go before it can challenge the dominance of Windows, say industry analysts such as Bryan Ma, associate director of personal systems research at IDC Asia-Pacific.

He noted that while there is some demand from specific sectors like government, a lot of businesses in high-piracy Asian countries, are ripping out Linux in low-cost PCs before installing bootleg copies of Windows on those systems.

"I would argue that in most cases, users are not using Linux on the desktop because people are more accustomed to using Microsoft Office and Windows," he explained. "Linux usage on the desktop is minimal. The people who use it fall under a niche market."

According to market figures from Gartner, companies are indeed still slow in adopting desktop Linux. The research firm noted that by 2008, there will only be 3.2 percent of non-consumer Linux users.

"For most companies, the cost to migrate away from Microsoft Windows is simply too high and outweighs the benefits companies expect they will receive," said Michael Silver, Gartner's vice president of client platforms group, in a media statement. "Most large companies have hundreds, if not thousands, of applications and the cost to migrate them to run on, or be accessible from, Linux is huge."

But that has not stopped Hewlett-Packard (HP) from selling business desktops and notebooks pre-installed with Linux.

"HP is committed to providing our customers choice in terms of operating systems (OS)," said a company spokesperson based in Singapore. "Currently, our business PC products provide a range of OS offerings which includes Linux."

He added that HP had conducted its own market research, which indicated that demand for Linux is mostly concentrated in the government, education and research sectors. However, he declined to reveal the number of Linux-based desktop and notebook computers HP has sold to date.

TTG Media's Law said he would only consider a Linux desktop for employees if it is used for single-function purposes such as Web browsing. "Many of the applications that we use are only available on the Windows platform," he said.