updated 7/7/2005 7:54:43 PM ET 2005-07-07T23:54:43

Dell and Napster are teaming up in a bid to help colleges alleviate network bottlenecks caused by students stealing digital music. If successful, the project may help boost Dell's paltry market share in portable music players.

Dell says that its college and university customers have complained that excessive illegal downloading of music was causing a slowdown in the performance of their networks.

Campuses were "shrinking the [available] bandwidth on the network to discourage" illegal downloading, says John Mullen, vice president of Dell's higher education business. He says schools want a way to minimize the impact of music downloads on their networks and encourage students to shift toward legal downloads.

Napster will make its entire music library available to cache, or store, on Dell servers at colleges and universities that participate in the program. The songs will be available on systems locally, on systems managed by Dell, so there will be minimal impact on bandwidth.

It remains to be seen, however, if students will go for the promotion. Many already have Apple Computer iPods and are already wedded to that service, or have already invested time downloading songs from file-sharing services.

Indeed, in March 2005 the number of songs downloaded from peer-to-peer services totaled nearly 275 million, more than ten times the number of songs downloaded legally, according to NPD.

Mullen says that increasing Dell's market share in portable music players isn't the point of the project. He stressed Dell's position as the leading provider of technology to higher education and said the company is simply giving its customers what they want.

Still, Dell would surely like to put a dent in Apple's overwhelming market share for hard drive-based players, which stands at more than 80%. Napster, too, is looking for whatever leverage it can get as à la carte services like iTunes continue growing and new subscription services hit the market from companies like Yahoo! and even Target.

The University of Washington is the first school to sign up and will market the service and Dell's portable players to students. Napster will offer discounted rates on its subscriptions, as will Dell for PCs and players.

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