Understanding Free was the title of one of the chapters in my book Nearly Free IT. One of the lessons in that chapter was about finding hidden costs in everything.
Lately, I think that was really constitutes "free" is more a question of value.
So long as I derive greater value from something, then the purchase cost is irrelevant. I don't care if the thing costs $10,000 if I can get $100,000 (in perceived value!) out of it, then it's worth it.
Free isn't simply the absence of price. It is the absence of net cost. You bought it, you loved it, you'd buy it again even if the price was double. That is truly free.
Just so long as the benefits outweigh the costs. So long as it's worth more to you, then it might as well be free.
So, that gives "free" a completely different spin.
What do you think? What else can free mean? ...smart-ass replies shall result in beatings.