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Desktops

Dell offers an open-source PC

Dimension E510n1 is geared for customers who want to use open-source software such as Linux. Photo: Dell's open-source PC

Dell began offering a new desktop PC on Tuesday with no operating system installed. The machine is designed for people who want to run open-source software such as Linux instead of Windows.

The Round Rock, Texas-based company's Dimension E510n PC comes with a blank hard drive and a copy of the FreeDOS operating system, which can be installed by customers. The computer is part of Dell's n-Series of PCs, which first started shipping without an operating system back in September 2002.

The desktop retails for $849 and comes with a Pentium 4 processor; 512MB of advanced DDR computer memory; a 128MB ATI Radeon X300SE HyperMemory video card; an 80GB serial ATA hard drive and a one-year limited warranty.

Dell's open-source PC

The computers are designed for customers and companies that want to experiment with Linux and other open-source operating systems. Many large companies that have pre-purchased Windows through licensing programs have to erase all the software that comes on factory-shipped PCs and then install the alternative software they've chosen. Buying a PC without an operating system saves a step and eliminates the cost of the extra software.

Despite its affinity for selling Windows-based computers, Dell is also a staunch supporter of Linux. The company has invested almost $100 million in open-source developer Red Hat and sells PCs and servers based on its operating system, such as its Dell PowerEdge SC430 with a dual-core Pentium.

On the desktop, Dell has been installing Linux on its Precision workstations for a couple years. Dell spokesman Liem Nguyen said the company will continue to do so.

The launch of the new Dimension desktop also marks the beginning of Dell's efforts to streamline its consumer products business, which features Inspiron notebooks and the Dimension desktop PCs.

During its launch of its new XPS series last week, Dell said it will continue to offer Dimension and Inspiron products as they are, for now, but each will eventually split into two increasingly divergent categories.

One of these categories will target audiences for basic systems; the other will aim at markets for entertainment PCs. The entertainment series will come with Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition (WMCE) standard, and the basic series will be loaded with Windows Home Edition.

Although the entertainment systems will offer WMCE both with and without a TV tuner and related hardware, Dell expects most of these computers to go out the door without the media hardware, since the company is counting on its media-savvy customers to trade up to the new XPS series.