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Dell signs up for .NET with MSN-Dellnet deal

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Microsoft announced its first major partner for .NET yesterday - because if you think about it even for just a couple of minutes, Dellnet is .NET. And as it will be shipping in the US from this fall, it's clear that the transition to .NET is going to be rather more seamless than we might have envisaged.

Dellnet from MSN is at root a co-branding exercise, but there are enough signals in the announcement to make it clear it's intended to be much more radical and long term than the traditional - and generally somewhat tacky - deals between ISPs and PC OEMs. For starters, MSN stopped categorising itself as an ISP some time ago, but we'll get back to that. The bare bones of Dellnet is that you go into a store, be it Webmall or Snailmall, buy a Dell machine and sign up for Dellnet by MSN "services" (there, we got back faster than we'd intended) all at the same time.

Take PC home, plug in, and within minutes you're connected to the Internet and "a rich experience that leverages the best of MSN with Dell's pre-configured, personalised Internet offering." Nothing to stop you taking it home and loading the AOL gear instead of course, but as you've just taken out a sub to MSN, why would you do that?

So far so dull, but hint number one is that "the two companies will build on their long-standing relationship and offer consumers new Internet services that give them fast, easy and personalised Web access and content." Hint number two is that the Dellnet co-branded service is described as the initial offering, so there's clearly more brewing from that long term relationship.

This includes plans "to jointly develop next-generation Web-based products and services that can be leveraged with Dell PCs... and take advantage of other integrated audio and video solutions. In addition, the two companies will investigate new devices and services that extend the reach of the Internet computing experience in the home and personal environment."

This clearly roadmaps straight in to .NET, and as you'd expect long-term MS stallwart Dell to be an early adopter of Windows.NET technology when it ships next year, you can see that as enabling those next generation services. The plans for devices fit in nicely too, as they mean that Dell has probably bought into Microsoft's pitch that .NET is for everything, not just PCs.

Also bear in mind that last week Steve Ballmer specifically referred to MSN's intention to run with the .NET enhancements, the context being that he was stressing that going with them or not was an available choice for third parties. If, say, AOL didn't want to go with .NET, it would simply be continuing to provide existing services, rather than the enhanced ones envisaged by Microsoft. We'll see how proprietory and tied by licensing restrictions these turn out to be, but the current deal makes it clear that Dell has bought into this pitch as well - snuggle up to MSN and you'll be OK.

Finally, here's what MSN, poised on the brink of morphing into MSN.NET, describes itself today. "MSN is the network of Internet services from Microsoft that helps people better organise the Web around what's important to them. The network of MSN services... helps people easily stay in touch with friends and colleagues, make smart and secure purchasing decisions, and get more done." There's much more, but "top-rated Internet access" is right down the bottom. You hadn't been thinking it was a dial-up Internet service, had you? ®

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