PC users could soon get their computers free in the same way that mobile phone users get their handsets for nothing according to a leading executive with the Linux Foundation.

In a presentation at the O'Reilly OSCON (Open Source Convention), Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin said users would select a wireless or network service provider and get a free PC with a data plan. Zemlin elaborated on his free PC vision, enabled by the rise of netbooks running Linux. "What made the cell phone industry take off in the mid-90s was the free phone," he said.

Carriers, he predicted, can provide Linux-based devices and develop their own app stores. Device makers also can provide these store, like Apple has, Zemlin said.

During his keynote, Zemlin emphasised the use of Linux in multiple types of systems and how Linux was changing the game in operating systems even on the client. "Today, everybody in the modern world uses Linux multiple times a day," he said, citing examples such as laptops, Google searches, and other systems.

Meanwhile, phones and PC devices are starting to converge, offering a lot of the same functionality, he explained. A PC can be cheaper than a phone, he said.

"If you look at what the iPhone has, it looks pretty similar to that PC," said Zemlin, comparing the iPhone to a $1,000 ThinkPad PC.

Linux also is benefitting from the down economy, with customers looking to save costs, Zemlin said. It also is overcoming potential legal hurdles with developments such as Microsoft now embracing the GPL, Zemlin said.