Dell has added to its Dimension line of PCs a computer that ships with a blank hard drive and a copy of the minimal open-source system FreeDOS.
The operating system shipping on the Dimension E510n is an open-source version of MS-DOS that buyers can use as a tool for subsequently installing any operating system they want, according to Dell spokesperson Liem Nguyen.
After FreeDOS is in place, users can install Linux or Unix if they like.
"This is aimed at technology enthusiasts and customers that are looking for an open-source-ready desktop system," said Nguyen. "This will give them the freedom and flexibility to install what they want."
Dell has made similar moves in the past. In 2002, for example, Dell offered nSeries systems without installed operating systems.
More recently, the company has allowed two Linux partners, Mandriva and Linspire, to offer Linux on Dell hardware.
Although the new systems are primed for Linux, Dell is not offering Linux as an option for installation, and has noted that it will not support Linux operating systems if they are subsequently put on the E510n.
To date, Dell has been a supporter of Linux primarily on servers, offering Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT - news) Enterprise Linux WorkStation on its Precision PCs.
But the company has not made significant moves to support Linux on the desktop.
Dell anticipates that the E510n will have limited appeal because it is targeted mainly at technology enthusiasts, but Nguyen did note that there is growing interest from customers for this type of systems.
"It's difficult to track, but we think there's more attention being paid to open-source options," he said.
Dell will offer similar systems in other parts of the world, Nguyen added, to capitalize on the increasing use of open-source software worldwide.
"The E510n really rounds out our product portfolio, and we think it will definitely find customers that appreciate its flexibility," said Nguyen.