Dell Mini 9 Inspiron: Cheap Today, Free Tomorrow?Whether you're new to hardware as a service (HaaS) or a true HaaS veteran, keep an eye on the emerging NetBook market. NetBooks are low-cost sub-notebooks from companies like Dell, Asus and Sylvania. They typically cost $275 to $400 or so, and run Windows or Linux.

But eventually, I think NetBooks will be free within HaaS agreements. Here's why.

During the OSCON (Open Source Conference) in July, Canonical Marketing Manager Gerry Carr told me he expected some broadband providers to potentially introduce NetBooks for free as part of service contracts. NetBooks, Carr said, could eventually become like cell phones: You'd get them for free from your service provider.

Canonical, by the way, is the company behind Ubuntu -- the fastest-growing version of Linux. And Ubuntu is a very popular pre-installed option on many NetBooks (check our sister site, Works With U, for continuing Ubuntu coverage).

Now, let's connect the dots between Linux, NetBooks, Dell and HaaS.

Dell Dials Vodafone

Within a few weeks, Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 NetBook will be resold in Europe by Vodafone with built-in HSPA mobile broadband, reports NewsFactors Business. The Dell NetBook will be sold in Vodafone stores and online, as well as directly from Dell, the report stated.

Admittedly, NetBooks are mostly for consumers and they are not complete laptop or desktop replacements. However, NetBooks could help small businesses to realize the business value of HaaS.

If Vodafone and other service providers offer NetBooks for free as part of their ongoing broadband service contracts, some business owners may begin to explore similar HaaS approaches for their PCs and desktops.

Is that a stretch or am I onto something here?