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introduced its new high-performance consumer desktop computer on Tuesday during a news conference on its new virtual homestead.

Dell joins companies such as


( RBK),


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Sun Microsystems

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, which already have set up private islands in the Second Life.

Second Life, the massive multiplayer online world, allows users to log on through the Internet and create 3-D computer-generated identities. These avatars are then free to explore the world that San Francisco-based Linden Lab has synthetically created.

On Tuesday, Dell Senior Vice President Ro Parra held a virtual news conference at the new Dell Island as he unveiled the XPS 701, touted as the company's most powerful and expandable consumer desktop aimed at gaming enthusiasts.

For Parra, though, the introduction of Dell's own private island is just the first step in a long jog into the so-called metaverse. Second Life has become the growing destination on the Internet, so it was a pretty easy decision for Dell to make, according to Parra.

"We believe we're breaking new ground here," says Parra. "One of the objectives for us was to enable

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the customer experience with more robust interaction. As we get experience and we learn more about interactions, we can make better decisions to merchandise and communicate. We're taking some risks, so we're going to be learning as we go on."

Linden Lab founder and CEO Phillip Rosedale was also on hand for the unveiling.

"It's really fun to see what Dell is doing," says Rosedale. "It's fascinating. This is a great example of how Dell is doing something unique. It's a great example how they're growing in a way that makes sense."

Attendees were treated to a close-up view inside the new quad-core XPS 710 gaming desktop. A giant XPS desktop system floated above the Dell Island welcome center, allowing visitors to fly inside and observe the computer's internal structure.

Dell's Factory

On Dell Island's factory floor, residents are able to sit at drawing boards and configure their own Dell machines, much like visitors to Dell's Web site can do. After configuring a PC that works best for them, the avatar can purchase an in-world version to carry around, or a real-life version can be purchased and delivered to someone's doorstep.

"We can lift the products off of pages and make them more robust," Parra says. "We've integrated the build-to-order system and enriched it. We have taken a pretty static transaction on the Web and we have made it richer."

Parra stated that Dell's intent is to build a presence as an effort to integrate real life commerce with the virtual world. Not only that, Dell wants to enrich e-commerce and how they interact with Dell."

In addition, Dell will create a replica of a store it plans to open in the real world and will put it into Second Life so that residents can provide feedback about what works and what doesn't.

Dell's 'Second' City

Beyond creating a virtual presence, Dell believes it can offer something compelling to residents. With a backlash forming from individual users upset that businesses are infiltrating the virtual world, Parra hopes instead that Dell will be welcomed as a neighbor.

"Our intent isn't to disrupt," Parra says. "We want and are going to bring value to residents. Most importantly, we're going to listen to what they want. We pledge to be a good neighbor."

Companies coming into Second Life "are quite smart and are contributing to the community the same way individuals do," Rosedale adds. "Companies, like Dell, will only get people to get more creative and innovative."

Most importantly, though, Parra is excited about Second Life because it enables consumers to better understand what they are purchasing.

"We're just eager to chart new territories into the virtual world," he says.

Robert Holden is staff reporter Robert Holmes. He reports often from Second Life.