A now defunct California-based distributor of bona fide free computers. Free-PC gave out thousands of Compaq computers to those who participated in their demographic surveys. I believe their policy was to give away 10,000 computers for every 1,000,000 surveys returned. The survey was somewhat probing but not ridiculous; very similar to what you'd see on your typical annoying please-register-and-sign-up-for-spam commercial sites.

I got lucky; I was dying for a new computer, being somewhat of a geek, and the old AST Pentium 100 was getting long in the tooth, although it never lost a single piece of hardware in its half-decade peak-usage time. I gladly took the survey and included the fact that I did have a computer already, but clarified in a text field that it was too old for my needs. Mainly, I didn't like the fact that it couldn't play MP3s while doing anything else. And lo and behold, they chose me! Many, many months after I filled out the survey I received an e-mail congratulating me that I was going to be receiving a new PC in the mail, and not one of their older models, but the latest-and-greatest proprietary Compaq system that they could afford to give away for free.

I was required to give them a credit card number, and didn't have one. I applied for a VISA debit card and received in just in time. I always loved getting mail, so getting a free computer in the mail was almost orgasmic. Of course there had to be a catch. For thirty months, I would be required to use the computer for at least ten hours a month, one hour of which would have to be online, using their really lame Free-ISP, which shared server bandwidth with AOL of all places. In other words, it was lame, and you had to have even more advertising crap up while online. Ten hours a month is nothing; one hour online with a crappy ISP, no big deal. But the catch was the fact that it came preloaded with Windows 98 and a proprietary advertising banner program that could not be removed. The computer would collect data on my web browsing habits and relay information to their database, and sometimes it seemed to really slow down while online, whether on their ISP or not, giving me Back Orifice-esque paranoia as well. I could only use a 640x400 segment of the 800x600 screen, the rest was occupied by banners that slowed the computer down to a halt. Every time I went into full screen mode, a Window appeared telling me "This doesn't count towards your ten hours, you know!!!"

I was beginning to realize that I was better off with the Pentium 100 -- the software made the thing nearly as slow (it's a K62-380 with 64mb RAM "stock"), and I couldn't browse any "controversial" websites, mainly because of a paranoid fear of what they did with their data. And then, something happened. The number one producer of "Free PCs" bought them out, and destroyed them. eMachines sells substandard computers in stores across the country. They are usually around $400 and can thus be sold as "free" using silly "pay for an ISP for three years" deals such as those found at Best Buy. eMachines didn't like the fact that someone was producing a truly FREE computer, so they killed it.

And I was given title to the computer, along with a program to wipe out any annoying ads. Otherwise, had Free-PC not been conquered, formatting the drive for any reason would result in being forced to pay a substantial fee for violating the agreement. The fine started at $600 and dropped by $20 every month until one reached the thirty-month point. Now I'm free to upgrade it as I wish, and believe it or not it actually has a ton of free expansion slots and peripheral ports. It's now running with 128mb of RAM, 34 gigs of HDD space, a relatively decent (ok ok it's 3Dfx!) accelerator card, a SoundBlaster Live!, a CD-Burner, and a surround sound speaker system. And it rules, thanks to eMachines, a company that also indirectly cost me my last job!

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