Over the past ten years a growing number of programmers have been creating and distributing free software that anyone can use for free. Before you accuse me of being redundant in the use of the word: free, allow me to explain what free means.
In our language, the word free can mean two things: free as in free beer and free as in freedom. The free software movement aims to do both. For them the freedom part is the most important. They give away their software but also give away the programming 'secrets' that allow anyone who cares to see how they did what they did. More importantly, anyone who wants to can work on the program to make it better. This has turned out to be a very successful way to get lots of people to work on programs that just keep getting better and better and remain free as in free beer.
Big companies have joined the movement: IBM, Google, Yahoo and lots of others – including my company. We make a small business file server using free software.
You can try free software for free too. Many people know about Firefox: the Internet browser that is faster and more secure than Microsoft's Internet Explorer. You can download it for free from Firefox.com. I recommend OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft's Office if you want a Microsoft compatible word processor and spreadsheet program and save $450. (I'd be happy to send you a CD filled with free software if you send me your mailing address: kim@FileEngine.com)
There are thousands of free software programs. You won't see them on the shelves of Office Depot or Best Buy because no one is making money selling them. But with a little searching, you can save a lot of money and gain a little freedom too.