In America many people are always buying things they don't really need. That fifteenth pair of shoes, a third car, a second house... Well you get the idea. I guess it should really be no surprise then that people in America are also over paying for computer hardware and software they do not need, nor will they ever come close to fully utilizing.
I cannot tell you the number of times I have gone to someone's house to clean out a system that is used strictly for webrowsing and typing papers and the system is a total power house. Maybe it is just myself, but it seems wasteful to use a 2.4ghz Quad core sporting 8gigs of RAM to just compose papers.
Why does this happened? Well there are really two people to blame here. The first is the sales person. Odds are the system was purchased from someone who works on a commission and as such it is to their benefit to sell a more expensive computer than a cheaper one. The second is the consumer themselves. If they had been informed on what they are buying in the first place they never would have purchased something so ridiculously powerful for their simple needs.
Beyond these two factors I think another misconception that is ingrained in people is that technology has to be expensive. A computer that costs half as much? That can't possibly last as long as the more expensive model or meet my needs as readily.
In the same manner I believe people have become accustomed to be gouged on the cost of software. The old "you get what you pay for" motto sticks in the back of their mind and because of this I think many don't give free alternatives a fair chance.
OpenOffice meets the needs of easily 95% of home users (and a good deal of those that use office software at work) and most of those people using an, often times illegal, version of Photoshop would be able to accomplish the exact same tasks using the legally free GIMP. Beyond this beginning Linux distros such as Linux Mint or Pinguy OS easily fulfill all the desktop computing needs of your average user.
With all of this in mind, why don't you see Linux, OpenOffice, or GIMP on the shelf at your local computer store? Simple:
There is no money in it for the retailer.
None of these products come with the, often hundreds of dollars, price tag attached that the commerical products have. Beyond this if a customer is using a Linux system the store will not have that same customer returning in six months to have their system cleaned out of viruses and "brought back up to speed".
The lesson to be learned here/the point I would like to get across is this - if you are not familiar with technology, bring someone with you who is when you go to pick out new hardware/software! It could end up saving you a good deal of money in the long run.