The F-word - MoneySense

The F-word

I used to equate “free” with “worthless”. I now know it doesn’t have to be so.

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Like most people, I’ve always been skeptical of free stuff.

These days, the word “free” is mostly associated with hidden costs (think gym membership trials) or products of zero value, like the Slap Chop.

However, due to the onerous financial pressures I’m now under as a proud (but poor) homeowner, I find myself giving a little more credence to stuff that purports to be free, or at least inexpensive.

Followers of this blog may remember the fate of my computer last year, which met a sad end in a burning repair shop. The company was good enough to replace the computer, but it came with hardware only. In terms of an operating system, I was on my own.

So I shopped around for a copy of Microsoft Windows, and the best price I could find was north of $200. Pre-condo Jody would have bitten the bullet and paid up, but post-condo Jody is a stubborn, stingy miser who has real problems with forking over that much dough for a product that — despite its longevity — still suffers from many of the same bugs and flaws as the original.

I’m no computer expert. Apart from creating and uploading content to the Web, my expertise is pretty limited. I know there are plenty of free operating systems out there, but I’ve heard you need a Master’s in computer science in order to install them. My budget may be tight, but I do value my time and sanity.

So I asked a technophile friend about OS options. “Ubuntu is what you want,” he said. “It is pretty user friendly and the price is right – free.”

There’s that F-word again, I thought. So, against my better judgment, I downloaded the OS, and after only one false start I got it installed.

I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised.

Apart from a few hiccups (mostly regarding apps), it’s been smooth sailing. The troubles I’ve encountered have all been resolved after a quick Google search, and it’s yet to crash on me (although I’ve only had it for a couple of weeks).

Learning the system is not difficult, and the best part is the boot time. It goes from off to internet-ready in less than 30 seconds, something I’ve never seen Windows or Mac OSX do.

You might be thinking, “So you installed a free OS, big deal!” But from my point of view it’s a huge victory. From hitting the download button to the first boot, the total cost was two hours of my time, plus a few new computer skills. It does everything I need it to do, and quickly.

Plus, my $200 is still in my pocket.

“Free” is still a four-letter word, but I’ll bristle less now when I hear it.

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