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Surprised? I can’t really say I am.

Though it may seem even shocking that Dell did so well in the Channel Insider Products of the Year awards, snagging the top spot in the desktop and notebook categories, it actually makes a lot of sense.

Yes, the channel doth protest too much about Dell, but as soon as the vendor’s upper echelon signaled more than a year ago it would finally get serious about the channel, I had a hunch that so long as Dell didn’t completely blow its implementation of a partner program, it would find plenty of companies willing to do business with the vendor.

For one thing, unless you sleepwalk through your day, avoiding Dell is as realistic as hiding from the sun in the tropics.

The brand is everywhere. Check out the laptop users hanging out at your local wi-fi cafe, and I bet you will see the crooked-E logo somewhere. Besides, solution providers delivering services to small and midsize (SMB) customers often come across the brand, either because it’s already at the customer sites or because the customers ask for Dell when buying new machines. Or both.

Then there’s the matter of competition. Notice that in both the notebook and desktop categories, the top three vendors were Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo – in that order. Aside from Acer, what other brand is out there for the channel to sell anymore? I dare you to come up with a list of 10 off the top of your head. No web searches allowed.

Get my point? Unless you throw in Apple, whose channel presence is minimal by design, solution providers don’t have much choice anymore in what system brands to sell. Sure, brands such as Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba, are still out there, but they account for only a small fraction of mindshare in the channel.

And let’s give credit where credit is due. Dell must be doing something right to beat HP and the Lenovo Think brand. Channel Products of the Year is not a popularity contest. Ziff Davis Enterprise researchers used sound methodology that takes into account the appeal of the products from a channel standpoint.

The study awarded points for things such as product familiarity, vendor service and support levels and opportunities for aftermarket sales related to each product. Weighed most heavily was the profit potential a product, which is an important channel-minded criterion.

Any channel observer could reasonably expect that HP would have topped the desktop and notebook categories, considering the vendor’s long history with the channel. Lenovo is another story, despite the vendor’s Think brand, which it inherited with the acquisition three years ago of the IBM PC business. After the acquisition, there was speculation that Lenovo would leverage the Think brand and its manufacturing facilities in China to take the channel by storm, but that just hasn’t happened.

So, the real competition for the top spot in desktops in notebooks was between Dell and HP. And Dell has the momentum now. The vendor, which formally launched its channel program in December, has received about 7,200 applications from U.S. VARs and 700 from Canadian VARs to become Dell partners.

With that much interest in the brand, it’s not surprising that Dell performed as well as it did in Products of the Year. So long as Dell keeps to its promise of avoiding conflict between its direct-sales efforts and the channel, the vendor stands to benefit from the channel’s goodwill toward the brand.

So, watch out, HP. Your position as the channel’s current systems darling is tenuous at best.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for Channel Insider. He can be reached at