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Dell hones its Linux efforts

The PC maker focuses the way it sells Linux computers, adding a Web page just for those machines and Linux software to its online store.

Dell Computer focused its efforts to sell Linux-based computers, adding a Web page just for those machines and Linux software to its online store.

The Web site offers a link to a site that gathers together all the Linux models in one place instead of having them scattered across several different sites for workstations, servers, and desktops.

The site also has a link to the Linux software available at Gigabuys, Dell's online store for software and computer peripherals. So far, Dell sells word processors, office suites, programming tools, and utilities.

Also today, Dell lopped off the $20 difference that used to make its Linux systems somewhat more expensive than its computers running Microsoft Windows, a spokesman said.

Further, Dell today began selling Linux versions of its business-oriented Optiplex line of desktop computers. The cheapest such computer costs $1,094 with a 350-MHz Pentium II chip and 64MB of memory but no monitor.

Dell, along with big-name computer manufacturers IBM, Compaq Computer, and Hewlett-Packard, has embraced Linux. Executives at these companies have said they see Linux as a growing market and that they want to make sure customers looking for Linux computers won't have to go elsewhere. In addition, they say customers thinking about testing the Linux waters will be reassured by their well-known brand names.

But there are competitors, which are smaller but often more experienced with Linux. VA Linux Systems, for example, is the recipient of an equity investment from Intel to make sure Linux systems will be available at the same time as computers with other operating systems when Intel ships new chips.

However, unlike its big-name competitors, Dell pre-installs Linux. Others certify their machines as working with Linux, but leave the installation to resellers, the customer, or the company's own custom installation facility, which charges extra.

Dell certifies its machines only with Red Hat's version of Linux, currently the most popular. IBM, though, is on the other side of the spectrum, supporting the four major commercial distributions: Red Hat, SuSE, Pacific HiTech's TurboLinux, and Caldera Systems' OpenLinux.

IBM last week certified several of its Intel-based Netfinity 3000 and 5000 servers to work with the four Linux versions.

In addition, IBM said a Linux driver for IBM's ServRAID 3 adapter now is available from the four Linux companies. Writing drivers for specific hardware is a key requirement before the Unix-like operating system can be used.