How Dell repels attempts to buy its 'open source' PC

We tried. We gave up


The battle continues - I want my open PC

If you're really persistent, you won't be satisfied with Dell's slow web updates and the time it takes to get new product on the site. You'll demand to see this new E510n and find yourself a helpful customer representative.

As it turns out, Dell's sales staffers have a secret web page for the product that you can't find with normal search tactics. A kind lass we'll call "M" pointed us here. On this site, Dell presents a couple different versions of the mysterious E510n. The lowest-end system starts at $774 and is exactly like the boxes above - including the free flat panel - except it has 512MB of memory. For some reason, Dell told reporters that the box starts at $849 - yet another one of the odd sales tactics surrounding this "open source" kit. [Following the publication of our story, Dell raised the price of the PC back up to $849. See the sales pages below for the original $774 price comparisons.]

On the special, hidden site, Dell cheers, "Are you looking for a desktop on which you can run Linux or other open-source operating systems? Look no further! . . . With the n Series desktop, customers have the flexibility to install an alternative operating system (such as a version of Linux), and help reduce the price of this system."

We have no idea what the "reduce the price of this system" refers too, since the comparisons seem to have Windows and non-Windows machines in the same ballpark. In fact, with 512MB of memory the regular 510n comes to $719 with Windows included. You'll notice that's less than the $774 E510n. Apparently, you have to pay for "n" power even though Dell reckons you save.

And, if you're still brave enough to buy this thing, Dell lets you know how much it really loves non-Microsoft OSes on desktops.

"Note: Dell does not support non-Dell installed operating systems."

You can compare the configurations by looking here for the 510n and here for the 510.

The only company that might rival Dell's strength and skill as a seller of goods is Wal-Mart. Dell outsells its rivals quarter after quarter. In fact, it often embarrasses them, posting a profit while the rest of the hardware world sinks below the thick red line.

Which makes the case of the E510n and systems like it so peculiar. How can a company so good at selling things make buying these computers so hard?

Certainly, this all has more to do with a web site snafu than Dell purposely trying to make buying a non-Microsoft PC difficult. Although, Dell's past Linux on the PC transgressions do raise more questions than answers. Some of you will remember that Dell was the first Tier I PC maker to offer Linux on mainstream desktops. Although after just a few months, Dell stopped selling the computers. Then CEO Michael Dell would later twirl away the notion that Microsoft had anything to do with the end of the Linux PC line.

Anyway, stay strong. You can pay more for the Linux-ready FreeDOS box if you try hard enough. For inspiration read our encounter with Dell's sales staff on the next page. ®

Next page: Bootnote

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