Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why You Should Never Pay For Antivirus Software

Most of us are familiar with the software that comes bundled on a typical new PC.  Typical jewels include application markets, and demos of "brand X" clip art applications.  Of course, there's always the obligatory trial of a for-pay anti-virus software package.  Here's why even keeping that free trial is a bad idea.

Follow the Money
All of those demos and trials that are bundled with a new PC are advertisements.  Each of those application vendors pays the PC manufacturer to install the application so that the final customer will be exposed to (and hopefully purchase) that application.  Antivirus software vendors such as those who create McAfee and Norton pay the likes of HP and Dell to place their software on our machines.  When we pay for that software, a substantial portion of that payment goes toward kicking back Dell and HP for future installations.  This helps bring the price of new computers down, but it also causes the price of the software to be higher so that the antivirus vendor can still make a profit.

The Free Stuff Finds Viruses Just As Well - Sometimes Better
In the most recent av-comparatives study of Antivirus software, the most popular free and for-pay antivirus applications all scored in the hight 90% region.  Many free tools such as Avira and Panda out-scored popular for-pay tools such as Norton and McAfee.  Even Microsoft Security Essentials, which appears 14 out of 19 tools tested was able to catch 96.3% of viruses in the wild.  It should be noted that the viruses that each tool misses are typically extremely rare and extremely unlikely to infect a normal home computer.  Most security experts I follow agree that Microsoft Security Essentials is good enough for home users.

The Free Stuff Doesn't Just Stop Working If You Forget To Pay Up
I'm occasionally asked to help a friend or family member diagnose a problem with his/her computer.  They always tell me, "I have _____ antivirus, so I don't know what's wrong".  But, I often find that the antivirus installed is a for-pay tool that came installed on the computer and has since expired and stopped updating.  An out of date antivirus is as useless as no antivirus at all - sometimes worse due to the false sense of security it provides.  While it's true that free tools can go out of date also, it's far less likely.

The Free Stuff Gets Out Of Your Way
Each antivirus tool has to do something to differentiate from the others in order to make a case to users to use that tool.  The big for-pay tools typically use big advertising and marketing budgets to get new users, and lots of on-screen alerts to remind you to pay up.  The big free tools typically use simple interfaces and high-performance to win you over.  The big guys pitch useless features like email scanning where all free and for-pay scanners include a real-time scanner that is always running that slow down your computer and actually make scanning less effective even while showing that feature in a bulleted list of features that you don't need.

There it is.  Now, please, stop paying for antivirus software.

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