Canonical on July 31 will launch a so-called "Switch to Ubuntu" initiative -- including support and migration services -- to help individuals and small businesses that are "seeking cost-effective alternatives" to Mac OS X and Windows-based desktops. Here's the scoop and early analysis.

Mark Shuttleworth has certainly caught my attention with the imminent announcement. Now my big question: Will Canonical's hardware partners (especially Dell) and channel partners lend a hand with the effort?

Let's start with details of the forthcoming announcement. In a draft press release viewed by WorksWithU, Canonical says its Desktop Support Services include three offerings: Starter, Advanced and Professional:
  • The Starter Desktop Service supports installation, set-up and basic functionality – such as Internet, creating documents and playing music and videos.
  • The Advanced Desktop Service is for more experienced users who need help migrating files and settings from a previously used operating system or assistance with desktop publishing and personnel accounting.
  • The Professional Desktop Service is for the business user who use Ubuntu as their main environment. Installation support ensures the Ubuntu machine is set up on the corporate network and integrated into existing IT services. The Professional Desktop Service also helps set up desktop virtualization and ongoing support provides professional users with quicker access to support personnel.
You can find more details and pricing at https://shop.canonical.com/ and http://www.ubuntu.com/services.

First, a little praise for Canonical: Now is exactly the right time to promote Ubuntu to individuals and small business owners. The reason: We're nearing another PC market inflection point, where millions of uses will be forced to decide whether to hold tight to Windows XP or leap to Windows 7. Converting some of those users from Windows to Ubuntu sounds like a logical, timely strategy.

At the same time, Canonical is working closely with IBM and Virtual Bridges to promote virtual Ubuntu desktops (running on Linux servers) as an alternative to Windows. So far, so good.

But I'm skeptical of the Mac-to-Ubuntu pitch. I don't hear from many Apple fans who are desperate for low-cost alternatives to well-designed Mac hardware and software. But perhaps I'm not listening closely enough to the Mac camp. Also, perhaps there are PC users who are mulling a move to the Mac -- but would instead embrace Ubuntu if they knew more about it.

The Bigger Issues

Now for my bigger questions.
  • Is Canonical really in a position to support mass consumer and small business migrations to Ubuntu? I could be wrong but I think you need an army of foot soldiers -- like the Best Buy Geek Squad in the United States -- to assist customers with on-site support.
  • Will Canonical extend the support services business model out to channel partners? Certainly, VARs and resellers and PC suppliers would be valuable partners during this Ubuntu migration push.
I'll be sure to ask Canonical a few of the questions above in the days ahead.

And Let's Not Forget...

Meanwhile, Canonical could have two aces up its sleeve:

1. Landscape: The remote management tool for Ubuntu-based notebooks, desktops and servers. I could be wrong but I suspect Canonical plans to somehow leverage Landscape in this migration and support effort. In theory, Canonical's support engineers could leverage Landscape to move quickly from one small business desktop project to the next.

2. Ubuntu Local Community Teams: Now is an ideal time for Canonical to mobilize the LoCos with key messaging about Ubuntu for individuals and small businesses. It's a tricky situation, of course, since Canonical is trying to profit from the customer migrations. And the LoCos aren't really designed for money-generating migrations. But perhaps there's a way to get the LoCos driving new Ubuntu recruits in Canonical's direction.

Lots of questions... Once Canonical "officially" launches the service, support and migration services on July 31, I'll start looking for more answers.

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