Is the OED useful?

The sheer volume of volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary solidifies its reputation as a weighty reference guide. But is it cost-prohibitive at $300/year for online access or $2,000 for physical copies? I feel well served by free services like Merriam-Webster or to satisfy occasional disputes over meanings of words (e.g. “fraught”– Who knew you could use it without the everpresent “with”?).
Using my old friend BugMeNot, I gained access to the OED site and poked around (greenhs/greenhs was the user/pass combo that got me in). The cumbersome, ancient interface looks 1000 years old in internet years. Despite having the same graphical elements on each page, the entire page refreshes as you move from word to word. You’re given a scrollbar on the left to peruse words before and after the word you’ve searched, but this function doesn’t dynamically keep pulling in more and more words as you scroll, you’ve got to click to refresh the list once you’ve reached the end. Usability of the pay-to-play site aside, I’m not so keen on the content of the definitions. Final rant– why can’t these dictionary sites wise up to the beauty of feeding out their Word of the Day on RSS?
I suppose the real star of the OED is the earliest usage examples. And perhaps those historical records are worth the subscriptions by word geeks with spending money.