I'm not convinced that anyone needs to buy software to get good protection against viruses, worms, spyware and other bad stuff.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
Don't pay for antivirus software
July 15, 2012
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard
The best things in life are free. But PC manufacturers don't know that. Want proof?
When you buy a new computer -- a new Windows computer, I mean -- you'll surely find some sort of name-brand antivirus software already installed. It seems like it's being given to you without charge. But this sneak attack from your PC maker is an assault on your intelligence: The AV software you get isn't free at all. It's a category of crapware I call snareware and guiltware. It snares you into installing it (or using it, if it's already installed), then duns you for a big payment after the "trial period" is over. You feel guilty if you don't pay, so you suffer another whack on your credit card and on your dignity.
I think people should be treated better than that. Apple doesn't allow this to happen to its customers; Microsoft shouldn't allow it either. (It's bizarre that Microsoft now charges you $99 if you'd like this crap taken off your new PC, as reported here: http://tinyurl.com/8xm9rwk.)
I've written previously about the crapware problem in general (in www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec061310.html). This week I'm concerned solely with antivirus and antimalware programs. ("Malware" is what it sounds like, as long as you understand Latin. It's "badware." And, no, "antimalware" isn't related to animals; the word just looks odd.)
For both Windows PCs and Apple Macs, I'm not convinced that anyone needs to buy software to get good protection against viruses, worms, spyware and other bad stuff. Companies that make free malware protection are among the most talented in the industry. In many cases, these companies sell protection software to businesses but give it away to you.
Why? Because you're cheap: You don't cost these companies anything in terms of support (you navigate their websites to read help files) and you get the software by downloading it, not by buying a packaged product in a store. (Why does support for companies cost more? Because in many cases the people paid to take care of the computers are trained the wrong way; they're told to call the company that made the software when any sort of problem comes up, whereas you and I simply look around for a solution -- and usually find it.)
I use both Windows PCs and Macs. I'm convinced the best choice of malware protection for Windows comes from Microsoft, the company that makes Windows (and knows its big and little vulnerabilities better than anyone else). The software is Microsoft Security Essentials. I've used it for years, and each time I try a competing program I find myself frustrated by the difference.
Security Essentials does not assume you are an expert on quarantines or malicious code names. It doesn't expect you to have time to track down explanations. It never gets in your way. It takes almost no computer effort to run. It always keeps itself up to date, and always informs you of anything that's wrong.
Get it from www.windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/products/security-essentials. Your computer must be running Windows 7, Windows Vista or Windows XP. (That includes nearly every Windows PC in the U.S.)
Every year I soften a little in my stand against the absurdity of running malware protection on a Mac. The chances of an unprotected Windows PC getting a virus are roughly 9,999,993 times greater than the chances that an unprotected Mac would get infected. (There are at least 10 million Windows viruses and just a handful for Macs. That's a very big ratio.)
So worrying about Mac infections is pointless. But AV companies have found a market even if one doesn't exist: Most of them sell Mac antivirus software that catches Windows viruses while it also looks for Mac viruses. I think this approach to being a Good Neighbor is a little creepy.
But I did find one well designed (and free) Mac antivirus program that is less creepy than the others even if it does look for the Windows stuff. It's Avast, from www.avast.com/free-antivirus-mac. I can't say Avast does a good job detecting Mac viruses and other malware -- after all, how would I know? -- but the Windows-catching part of the software gives me the impression that the Mac side should work just as well.
(An aside: You know about the guy who went around with a banana in his ear just to keep the elephants away? When asked why he did that, he replied, "Because it works! There are no elephants within 100 miles!" I feel that way about Avast and the other Mac antivirus software. Should you stick the Avast banana in your ear? I'm leaning in the "no banana" direction, at least for now.)