Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
Linux might be free to download and install, and it might offer you freedoms that aren’t available from commercial software, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that everything about Linux is free. You might save money, but there are still hidden costs that need to be taken into account.
The first cost is uncertainty. It’s hard to measure uncertainty in any definitive way but that doesn’t mean that it should be ignored. When you take a copy of Windows XP, Vista or Mac OS X and you install it onto a system with the appropriate system requirements, chances are that unless you have a particularly bizarre configuration or a defective component, you can be pretty certain that the OS will install and things that you have installed (WiFi adaptors, network cards, graphics cards and so on) will work just fine.
After all, you’ve paid someone to come up with a workable product where most of the kinks have been worked out (OK, I admit, both Leopard and Vista were released with too many kinks still lurking within the code). The same when you buy a bit of hardware. Hardware is designed to work on particular platforms and if you go out and buy something, again being mindful of the system requirements, things should work out OK for you. This isn’t true 100% of the time, but given the billion or so PCs in use, the failure rate is surprisingly low.