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Dell turns to snail mail to send patch

The company is sending out CDs with a fix for some of its Axim X5 handhelds. Dell had offered a downloadable patch, but some used it to perform unauthorized upgrades on older handhelds.

Dell plans to use a low-tech method to deliver a software update that solves a performance glitch that's affecting some of its Axim X5 handhelds.

The Round Rock, Texas-based PC maker will send CD-ROMs that contain software that fixes the glitch to an undisclosed number of Axim X5 handheld owners who use the U.S. Postal Service or other delivery methods.

Dell said the glitch affects Axim X5s shipped from the factory before July 16 with Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 Software for Pocket PC. The flaw hampers the performance of the devices.

Dell is sending the CD instead of delivering the update as a download from its Web site. The company's original plan was to post the fix on its site and then follow up by sending the CDs. But after posting the software update on July 30, Dell removed it the same day, when it learned that some Axim X5 owners used it to perform unauthorized operating system upgrades on older handhelds.

Dell had expected to send out the CDs by the end of this week, but the plan fell through. The company is working to send the updates soon but has yet to determine an exact date for when they will be sent out, a company representative said.

"Unfortunately, it is taking longer than anticipated to ship the CDs," the representative said.

The Axim X5 is the first handheld to be sold under Dell's brand name. So far, the device has been successful, gaining nearly 7 percent of the handheld market during the second quarter of 2003.

The glitch, which first cropped up in late June, only affects versions of the handheld sold before July 16. Dell held shipments between July 16 and July 30, while it worked on the problem.

Although Dell delayed Axim X5 shipments by only about two weeks, the glitch disappointed at least some Axim owners. Some voiced their discontent on Web forums, including Dell's own tech support site.

Dell isn't the only company to have difficulties with its handheld, however. Gateway delayed indefinitely its Pocket PC 2003 handheld, saying it missed a critical launch window after postponing the device's debut to allow for additional testing.