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Dell launches home-PC blitz

The company's strategy seems to cover every trend to hit the PC market in the last year, including access to high-speed broadband Internet service, digital music, and a renewed focus on design.

Dell Computer unleashed a major consumer initiative today, positioning itself as a one-stop shop for home PC customers in an area that has not been a traditional stronghold for the computer maker.

Dell, which made its name selling computers and servers directly to businesses, today introduced an array of products, services, and partnerships designed to appeal to the home PC user. The initiative, dubbed "Dell4Me," includes a partnership to make Excite@Home's broadband Net access available to Dell customers. The PC maker also touted its first cosmetically enhanced computers that depart radically from its usual beige boxes.

The moves come as PC companies attempt to adapt to the changes rocking the industry. With rapidly falling PC prices and increasing demand for high-speed Net access, computer makers are beefing up Net access options with cable modems and digital subscriber line (DSL)--a high-speed Net technology that uses ordinary phone lines.

Many PC makers are looking to bring hardware prices down even further by offering discounts and rebates with Internet service providers, although Dell has avoided this trend so far.

But Net service via cable modems may not be the panacea that PC companies are looking for. While hardware makers and Net access providers are eager to tap this high-speed market, the service is not widely available yet and there have been customer service issues where it is available.

The home market is also not an area that Dell has dominated. Although the company's build-to-order and direct sales strategy have earned it success in the corporate market, it remains to be seen how the strategy will play with consumers in the long run. Dell pointed out that it has steadily been gaining market share with home PC buyers, citing research that it has moved from seventh to fourth in that market.

Today's announcements continue the company's growing focus on all things Internet related, including its recently announced Internet service, e-commerce portal, and auction Web site.

Dell's strategy seems to cover every trend to hit the PC market in the last year, including access to high-speed broadband Internet service, digital music, and a renewed focus on industrial design. Emphasis on these user-friendly features will be reflected in the ad campaign, the company said, rather than the typical "speeds and feeds," or hardware specifications, which are usually promoted in PC ads.

With today's announcements, the company is offering options not found on other home PCs. For example, Dell said its Excite@Home deal may alleviate much of the hassle of determining whether customers can access the service.

"The broadband market is pretty challenging, because it is very local," said Janet Mountain, vice president of Dell's consumer business. "With one simple call, we're in a position to find out your address, qualify you, and pre-install the [network card]," she said. "It's the ease and convenience factor we're trying to deliver to customers."

Another Dell thrust will come in the notebook computer realm. The company today introduced its new Inspiron notebooks featuring color accents on the cases, a departure from the typical beige and black boxes the company usually ships.

Starting at $1,899, the new Inspiron 3700 in Tahoe Blue or Storm Grey is the first attempt from Dell to exploit the trend toward more aesthetically pleasing design, first seen a year ago in Apple's curvy iMac. The overwhelming popularity of the iMac, which has topped retail sales charts since its introduction, has led other companies, including Palm Computing, Emachines, and Gateway to unveil products featuring new designs and colors. Dell also recently showed off a prototype tablet computer the company is working on at an event in Texas.

Capitalizing on another hot consumer market, the PC maker also announced it will start bundling digital music software and Rio portable MP3 players with its Dimension desktop computers. A Dimension, with pre-loaded MusicMatch Jukebox software, the Diamond Rio 500 MP3 player, and speakers, will start at $1,664.

Later this week, Dell is also expected to announce a home-networking initiative based upon the Home Phoneline Network Alliance 2.0 standard, which provides 10 mbits per second of data transfer.

The Dell4Me ad campaign will start this weekend and appear in magazines such as GQ, Ladies Home Journal, People, Rolling Stone, as well as some newspapers. The campaign will also include television spots.