The trend towards DRM-free music seems to be giving Dell the notion that the market's ready for another digital music player. They tried to sell MP3 players five years ago, but got washed away in the Apple iPod tsunami and gave up in 2006. There's a whiff of "me too" about anybody trying to make portable music players now; Apple's devices are so ubiquitous that people call any such device "an iPod" at this point. But Dell's hoping that by hiring an ex-Apple executive to oversee the making of an inexpensive player that will play music from any vendor, they can make inroads into Apple's iTunes/ iPod audience.
As we've noted before, the move to DRM-free tracks won't be enough to help the labels break the iTunes hammerlock on the digital music market. But it does open things up a bit for new entrants, whether they're distributors or hardware makers. While Apple is still a closed system -- only iTunes players can play iTunes tracks -- going DRM-free means that music purchased from stores like Amazon, or loaded onto players (presumably) like Dell's new gadgets can also be moved onto iTunes players. That is: the new services and players are at least partly compatible with Apple, which is something you couldn't say before.
Dell would offer a subscription service for their music catalog instead of a per-track purchase model, so in a way that's still a form of DRM. But you could still load music that you already own onto the device in addition to the subscription offerings, and you can purchase music from all sorts of vendors these days. It just might work. We hope they're smart enough not to make the player chocolate brown.