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Commercial Antivirus Software Versus Freeware

May 1, 2009

in privacy & security

by David Hakala

Q: Norton wants me to renew my subscription for another year at $55. Can I pass it up and rely on free antivirus software? — Becky

Yes. Next question, please.

OK, long reassuring answer: yes, if you are a typical user who is not being specifically targeted by Russian Mafia hackers or a crazy ex-spouse. You’re safe enough with a $30 deadbolt lock on your front door, right? You’re not Britney Spears; you don’t need eight bodyguards and a $20,000 home alarm system. Likewise, you don’t need to pay anyone for perfectly adequate antivirus protection.

There are many highly effective antivirus programs available free of charge. The key, in most cases, is that your use of the antivirus program must be “non-commercial.” You can use it on your home computer for email, recreational Web browsing, your personal blog, etc. Your whole family can use it for free on one computer or a home network. Your non-profit organization or school can use it on its network. Sometimes government agencies are exempt from purchasing a license. You can’t use it to run a home-based business or on a for-profit office network. This all works on the honor system.

Many people are biased towards free antivirus software for technical as well as financial reasons. Norton, McAfee, and other leading commercial antivirus programs are frequently criticized for being too big and consuming too many computing resources. They can bog down other running applications. They are also highly invasive programs. They entwine themselves so deeply into your computer’s operating system that a malfunction in the antivirus software can crash your whole machine. Uninstalling such software can be a nightmare akin to excising a brain cancer.

“You get what you pay for” does not apply to antivirus software. The people who write and update free antivirus software pour lots of effort into it because they are on a holy mission to stamp out malware. Compare a $50 Bible from a bookseller to one handed out freely by a door-to-door missionary. They’re the same book. Both will do you the same good if you use them properly. The free Bible probably doesn’t look as fancy as the $50 one, but it’s probably lighter and easier to carry. The same goes for antivirus software.

My favorite free antivirus program is Avast! Antivirus. Other highly effective free antivirus programs include Kasperky, AVG Antivirus version 8.0, and Avira.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at


Homer Whitt 05.07.09 at 8:26 am

You might take a look at the free version of Rising Antivirus. It’s developed in China and is the most popular in China. While working there my company installed it on my business computer and I have never had a virus. I also installed it on my home computer and it has worked perfectly. No issues, no viruses.

Paul D. Schneider 05.07.09 at 10:24 am

I never had any problems with Rising either. Then read on an antivirus test that it only stopped 86% of the viruses thrown at it. It’s updates also left a lot to be desired. So I switched to Avira. 99% stoppage. 1 to 8 updates per day and not only virus definitions, but engine updates too!

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