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

We tried. We gave up

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Dell this week received much praise for releasing a new version of its "open source" PC. The computer fits into Dell's n Series range of Windows-less systems. These ship with a copy of FreeDOS in the packaging material - but not installed on the PC - which is apparently a bizarre concession to Microsoft. While Dell garners glowing reviews for shipping such an open source OS-friendly product, the company's new E510n actually stands as yet another example of how hard Dell tries not to sell non-Microsoft gear.

If Dell has an official press release touting the E510n, we sure can't find it. In addition, the company doesn't present the n Series systems to customers looking for desktops on a standard shopping page. Instead, you'll have to go ahead and search for "n Series" on Dell's web site to find the gear. But even then you've only just started your journey.

Regular Joes searching for the non-Microsoft kit will end up here. At the time of writing, you'd see an orange "New" sticker around the Dimension 5150n. That PC is certainly similar to the E510n Dell described to the press, but it's not the same box. The E510n is nowhere to be found.

Then, even if you could find the E510n and wanted to buy it, Dell provides these warnings.

"In order to boot this system, you must install an operating system. A FreeDOS media kit has been provided which will allow you to boot your system once installed. Please note that many common applications will not run and/or fully function using FreeDOS, and in order to run these applications, you will need to install the appropriate operating system and/or device specific drivers.

"n Series systems sold with FreeDOS are not eligible for upgrades to Microsoft client operating systems as part of a Microsoft Volume Licensing Agreement."

Sweet.

So, at least you're saving money by not going with a Microsoft OS, right?

Er, well, not exactly.

The 5150n, for example, starts at $649 with a 3.0GHz Pentium 4 chip, FreeDOS, 256MB of memory and a 80GB hard drive. Meanwhile, a very similar system, the E510 - presumably just like the n Series box by the same name with the difference being that this one appears on the web site - sells for $679 with the exact same chip, memory and hard drive. The only distinguishing marks are the inclusion of Windows XP Media Center 2005 Edition and a $30 higher price tag.

Sweet.

Er, well, not exactly. You'll get a free 17 inch flat panel with the E510 and nothing free with the 5150n. The Windows PC is looking like the much better deal given that you can remove Windows and plunk Linux on the box anyway.

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