SSH is a way to remotely and securely access command prompt/terminal on another computer, giving you access to that computer's files, services, network connections and programs.
Some services offer free SSH accounts, to edit and access files anywhere, host websites, use them as proxies (or IPv6 gateways) and some even let you run processes like IRC bots and compilers.
Generally, such free Shell accounts impose a monthly bandwidth quota of a few megabytes, so you don't use too much of their resources. Some providers are more generous than others, though, and some charge for additional space and bandwidth.
Most SSH providers offer Unix-based hosting. Mitja Sladovic offers a very large list of such free providers.
The most popular service is the SDF Public Access UNIX System, established in 1987. Free users are offered email hosting (POP or IMAP), games, access to the text-based 'Lynx' web browser, web hosting, various network utilities and 80MB space. For access to gcc, php etc., one must pay a one-off fee of $36. In order to validate your account, and receive access to network utilities, one must send them $1 or €5 (in order to deter spammers).
Update: The service offers many different plans now, some of them still free, others for an annual fee. You can for instance create your own mailing list with up to 500 members for $30 per year, get your own DNS service for $20 per year, or VOIP for $15 quarterly.
Blinkenshell is another interesting option. Free accounts get 50MiB of space, access to several compilers, an IPv6 tunnel, hosting, email, IRC access and even the ability to have MySQL databases. One can't use Blinkenshell for IRC bots, though. A few services do provide access to eggdrop, a popular IRC bot, such as Polarhome and aeshells.
Naturally, novices may struggle with such services as no graphical interface is provided. These services do, however, provide a rapid way to compile applications on different platforms (like Linux and BSD) and allow boring processes, like IRC bots, to run for you.
Update: Freeshell is still the number one destination for free remote SSH accounts.
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