Free Stuff 2000

SAN FRANCISCO (03/06/2000) - free (fre), adjective. Provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment: free parking; free sample; free ride.

These days, free is the word that makes the Web--and the computing world--go round. Free e-mail, free PCs, free advice, free almost anything. Everyone, it seems, wants to give us something for nothing.

But freedom has a price--lots of them, actually. That nifty free service you signed up for may pelt you with spam. The real price of that free computer might be an unhappy marriage with the wrong ISP. And an alarming percentage of freebie merchants won't fork over the goods until we reveal our buying habits, financial wherewithal, and other highly personal matters.

Which is why we've assembled this one-stop guide to shopping the free economy.

First up is the "5th Annual Best Free Stuff Online," our latest yearly roundup of the Web's greatest giveaways. This time, we spotlight new and lesser-known items, as well as a few old favorites.

A computer for $0.00? That's what "free PC" vendors claim to provide. Read "Free PCs: The Price You Really Pay" to get the straight scoop. No, the systems aren't really free; and buying the wrong one could be a costly mistake.

Many PC users would pay any price for good technical support. But now, some services offer it for nothing. "Free Support Free-for-All" reports on new third-party tech-support megasites that promise to troubleshoot your thorniest computer problems online--at no cost.

In "Beyond Free-Mail," we review 20 ad-supported Web-based services--everything from e-mail to ISP connections to virtual hard drives. Concerns about security and privacy are legitimate, but the best of these services are real deals.

Then there are those free services with an entrepreneurial edge. "Running Free" examines the pros and cons of Web tools that assist with two basic tasks of every small business: effective teamwork and money-making.

Throughout the issue, look for our "Gotcha Watches" that expose hidden catches connected with free stuff. You need to be careful out there, since some things are too good to be true. But if you shop smart, it's a great time to be a freeloader.

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