Windows vs Linux: Ownership
Did you pay for Windows? Are you absolutely sure?
If your computer came with a copy of MS Windows, then you most likely paid for it (even if the store didn't tell you). In fact, the price for a Windows license these days amounts to an average of one fourth of each new computer's price. So unless you obtained Windows illegally, it's a safe bet you probably paid for it. ;-)
And unfortunately, a license of Windows doesn't imply that you own the software; it's like the road system and your driver's license: you bought and paid for your license, but you don't own the highway. In a nutshell, you have purchased the right to use the road, and the same goes for Microsoft Windows.
The ugly thing about this "deal" is that Microsoft has (for some time now) been talking about changing their licensing procedures to force you to re-purchase the license on an annual basis. In other words: Microsoft owns the Windows software installed on your system; if they wanted to, they could just as easily demand its return. Don't believe me? Try reading the MS Windows EULA (End User Licensing Agreement), and take a look for yourself. Nowhere in that document does Microsoft transfer ownership of your copy of Windows to you, the user.
On the other hand, you can get Linux completely free of charge. That's right -- all those people around the world who worked very hard to make a neat, secure, efficient, good-looking system, are giving their work away for everybody to use freely.
If you wonder why these guys do such things, drop me an email and I'll try to explain the best I can. ;-)
Of course, some companies are doing good business by selling support, documentation, hotline access, etc. for their own version of Linux, and this is certainly a good thing. But most of the time, you won't need to pay a cent. In fact, if you buy a copy of Linux from a retail store, what you are paying for are the physical CDs (or media), manuals, and the pretty box along with a limited length of time support contract.
With Linux, you own the software. You can't buy a license for it like Windows because the concept is not used. You have a document similar to the EULA that is called the 'Copyleft'. All it really says is that if you make changes to the source code and you wish to allow others to use it, you can do so, after doing a couple things like making sure the previous developers' names are kept in the documentation and you don't charge folks for getting your application. Otherwise, it is yours to do with as you wish.
The question now becomes, "Is Linux really free?"
The answer is, quite simply, "Yes." You can access the Internet and download all sorts of distributions, free of charge -- well, free except for the connection charge you pay monthly to access the Internet. ;-) But compared to the charges you pay for a Windows license, which have been announced for Vista ($300+), you can't find a better deal than Linux.