BIG COMPUTER COMPANIES WANT BACK IN THE GAME

* Last month giant Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) of Maynard, Mass. announced a "Desktop Direct" program that pits Digital against established mail- and telephone-order companies such as CompuAdd Corporation and Dell Computer Corporation, both of Austin, Texas.

Customers can call or fax requests for custom-configured machines to DEC, which will ship the order within two days. The company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee and a year of free telephone support plus next-day on-site service if needed. Spokesman Robert Schneider says DEC has a force of more than 20,000 service people in the United States. "We're really ready to go out there the next day," he says.

When visiting a site, the service personnel can repair any machine in a system, regardless of manufacturer.

Mr. Schneider says DEC will be competitive with mail-order companies, sometimes beating them on price, sometimes not.

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