Linux exec: Personal computers will be free like phones

The executive director of Linux Foundation sees parallels between wireless phones and computer hardware

Look for personal computer users to soon get their hardware in the same way that they get their cell phones: for free as part of telecommunications service subscriptions, the executive director of the Linux Foundation said on Friday afternoon.

In a presentation at the O'Reilly OSCON (Open Source Convention), Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin said a trend will emerge in which users would select a wireless or network service provider and get a free PC with a data plan.  AT&T, he said, already is offering netbooks as part of a service plan, with the user getting the netbook for $US50.

In an interview on Thursday, Zemlin elaborated on his free PC vision, enabled by the rise of netbooks running Linux. "What made the cell phone industry in the U.S. in particular 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 emphasized 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 $US1,000 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.

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