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Dell to put service channel on desktops

The push channel will be carried by Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0, which comes bundled with most every Dell machine.

Dell (DELL) will open a "push" channel next month for service, support, and equipment upgrades, the latest step in the company's effort to improve support.

The new channel, which will come with virtually all Dell computers unless otherwise requested, will be carried as one of the channels in Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 and act as a conduit for communication between Dell and its customers, according to Dell spokesman Bill Robbins.

The push channel is another example of Dell's marketing innovation, which has helped unseat rival Compaq as the leading PC manufacturer. Dell has maintained its edge over competitors through direct sales of computers to customers by catalogs and the Web, providing products that are built to specific orders.

Although Dell will use the channel to provide information and marketing materials, one of the more useful functions will come in notifying customers of system upgrades.

"Let's say there is a BIOS update," Robbins explained. "We can send notification of it, asking whether people want it or not." In many instances, the upgrade will be able to be provided via the Internet.

Dell can also use the channel for operating system and application upgrades, he added, but it is unclear whether Dell will take on this responsibility or leave that to the specific software vendor.

The new channel will also take advantage of Dell's Express Source Code program, Robbins said. Under Express Source Code, consumers get a specific identification number with their computers which tracks the entire history of that machine. Using the number allows the customer and technician to short-circuit the mass of support documentation and get to the information that could impinge the specific computer in question.

Dell's channel will come with all computers using Internet Explorer 4.0, which Dell will ship with all computers with Windows 95. In a nutshell, that means all Dell computers. Customers, however, can specially ask for Netscape Navigator as well as ask that the Dell channel not be included.