Ubuntu PCSo, you're thinking about offering managed hardware as part of a monthly service contract. Before you make the move, consider this: Perhaps it's time to take a close look at open source desktops (particularly Ubuntu Linux running OpenOffice) as an option for your customers. Here's why.

In the Windows world, a rather comical debate is occurring. Some VARs are recommending Windows XP (faster but less secure than Windows Vista) but other VARs are pushing Windows Vista (a memory hog that's somewhat secure). Let's face it, folks. Customers deserve a fast, secure, reliable desktop that costs you very little to manage and support every month. And Microsoft doesn't currently offer an operating system that fulfills all three needs (fast, secure, reliable).

Sure, many businesses need Windows for specialized applications. Others are willing to pay a premium for Macintosh hardware (yes, I'm a big Apple fan, too). But MSPs need to explore the open source niche. By recommending Ubuntu Linux with OpenOffice to general purpose customers, you can offer managed hardware that won't require much time for you to manage. That's right: You can actually bill customers on a monthly basis to support hardware that barely needs any support.

I've been using Ubuntu Linux and OpenOffice on a Dell PC for about five months. It's fast, reliable and intuitive. It linked up to my Ethernet network easily. And yes, all of my word processing, spreadsheet and presentation files open just fine when I send them to Microsoft Office users.

This got me thinking: Why are managed service providers always pushing Windows systems on their customers? I suspect 10 to 20 percent (perhaps a whole lot more) of small business users are ready for open source. If you're a VAR mulling a move into managed hardware, check out Ubuntu Linux systems from Dell, ZaReason and System76.

Linux PCs certainly aren't "free," and they're not for everyone. But they're fast, cost effective and require minimal help desk support. That's why managed platform providers like Kaseya plan to support Linux PCs (and Macs) sometime in 2008. As an MSP, you should demand Linux and Mac OS X device support from your platform provider. Windows will remain a primary standard. But MSPs are wise to explore alternatives in order to further reduce their own monthly support and management headaches.

And be sure to keep a close eye on Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux. Canonical is developing a managed services platform of its own to better manage Linux systems from afar.

If I was an MSP writing up my 2008 business strategy, identifying open source opportunities would be near the top of my priority list.