For many small business users, all the rational arguments for using open source software like Linux make a great deal of sense: It's free, customizable, compatible, and it's free of vendor lock-in, to name just a few.

When it comes down to the wire at purchase time, however, many fall prey to one or more of the frequently perpetuated myths out there, and vague fears of incompatibility or a lack of support or something else drive them right back into Redmond's waiting arms.

One way to make the notion of a Linux-based computer less worrisome for such users is to buy hardware preloaded with Ubuntu, Canonical's version of the open source operating system. That can go a long way toward ensuring that everything "just works" out of the box, and I've already discussed good ways and places to do this.

As of December, however, another option emerged that's well worth checking out--it's even better, in fact, from the perspective of software freedom. It's called the Open-PC, and it offers "a PC for everyday use built by the Linux community for the Linux community," in the project's own words.

With three models to choose from--two built and sold in Europe and one through ThinkPenguin in the United States--the Open-PC has several key advantages that could make it the right choice for your small business. Here are just a few to consider.

1. It's Entirely Free

You know how when you use proprietary software like Microsoft's, you tend to have to agree to an end-user license agreement that restricts with an iron hand what you can and can't do with the software? Well, the Open-PC more or less does away with that.

Only free software is used in Open-PC devices, and that includes those rascally drivers, which can on occasion cause a problem when you least expect it. All software was chosen by the Linux community through a series of surveys, in fact.

In Europe, Open-PCs reportedly use the OpenSUSE Linux distribution, according to Free Software Magazine, while the U.S. version uses Ubuntu. Either way, KDE is the standard desktop. The most important point, of course, is that you're free to alter and customize the software to suit your business's needs.

Also worth noting, though, is that--as with any instance of Linux--you're also relatively free from viruses and malware. That kind of freedom may just be worth even more, in fact.

2. It Just Works

Specs on the Open-PC sold in the United States by ThinkPenguin include a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, up to 4GB of DDR2 SDRAM, Intel GMA 3150 Accelerated Graphics, Realtek RTL8103EL Fast Ethernet and 4 USB ports, for example.

Perhaps even more important, however, is that--similar in many ways to a preloaded Ubuntu machine--energy-efficient Open-PCs are preconfigured to your specifications and arrive customer-ready. Only fully documented hardware is used--chosen, once again, through surveys of the Linux community--and it's designed for ease of use, even by novices. Gone can be all those fears about getting everything up and running smoothly.

3. Support Is Included

Adding further to that peace of mind is that if, by chance, you do encounter a problem, telephone and email support are included in the Open-PC's price. For those reluctant to entrust support to the community--excellent as that resource tends to be--that extra reassurance can be significant.

Bottom line? With prices starting at $249 in the United States, the Open-PC's price isn't insignificant. On the other hand, if you factor in the inclusion of support, the "just works" factor and an included donation to the KDE project, the Open-PC could be a compelling choice.

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