Nobody wants to have their computer infected, just like nobody wants to get sick. Unfortunately, it is an all to common occurrence. So the question becomes 'How can you prevent a computer infection?' Well, on a Windows machine, one of the best preventative measures is to install a good Anti-Virus. But which one?
To Free, or not to Free?
If you've bought a new Windows computer before, chances are it's come with a 30 to 90 day trial of an Anti-Virus. There is a good chance it was McAfee or Norton. These two companies have been around for decades and each has millions of subscribers. But are they the best option? Are they even a good option? Well, that depends on who you ask.
But here's an even better question... Do you need to pay for anti-virus protection? The short answer is no, you don't HAVE to pay for it. And no, I don't mean get it illegally. There are FREE alternatives to a paid anti-virus. The companies that provide it for free offer paid versions as well, which often give you more features than their free counterparts. But free has its own benefits.
So we'll get into which free ones you should look at if you want a free one. But first, why not pay for one? If you pay Norton $80 a year to protect your computer, they guarantee it, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, many people have found out the hard way that when you pay Norton, McAfee, or just about any other anti-virus company out there, they are NOT guaranteeing that you will be virus free. That means if your computer becomes infected, they will not help you for free. They will offer remote cleanup services, but this only works on minor infections. If it's a bad one, your on your own. If you loose any data, it's your problem, not there's. So why pay?
When you pay for Anti-Virus software, you are paying for the protection services they provide. Additionally, many Anti-Virus packages include firewalls, identity theft protection, e-mail scanners, tune up software, etc. But is all that really helping? That depends. Is it worth the price? Again, that depends.
I know I'm beating around the bush, so I will get to the point. Should you pay for anti-virus? In my opinion, no. Unless you need/want other features provided by your Anti-Virus suite, there are sufficiently good options out there that won't cost you a dime. And if you want to support an anti-virus company, support the ones that offer good free protection. Reward them for their generosity.
So if you've decided to get free Anti-Virus, what options do you have? Let's take a look.
I Want Free. I Like Free. Which Free Should I Get?
Deciding that you would like something for free is easy. Deciding which one is less so. Especially when it's an anti-virus. It's hard for most people to determine how good something is at protecting your computer. Also, there are a lot of user interface differences, annoyance differences, speed differences, etc. So what options are out there?
There are actually quite a few, but there are 5 free options I'd suggest looking into:
All modern versions of Windows come with or can download Windows Defender. Windows Defender started as an anti-malware program built into vista, which later worked in conjunction with Microsoft Security Essentials. But now, Windows Defender does it all!
So it's made by Microsoft. It's free. It's part of modern Windows. Why not just use this? Well, you can! In fact, Windows 10 will try to force you to use it if you delete a pre-existing anti-virus. If you don't plan on installing something else, you should let it. Any mediocre anti-virus is better than nothing in terms of protection. This is no exception.
However, in my experience, every other anti-virus system listed here is significantly better at protecting your computer. Many other independent testers including PC Magazine seem to agree. But it's not as bad as they say. With safe searching habits, Defender will keep you pretty well protected. It also has one of the lowest impacts on computer performance of any Anti-Virus out there. But a large number of computer's I've fixed that were infected had Windows Defender/Security Essentials as it's sole protection.
Who should use this? Light computer users. For those who rarely go online and/or have very safe search habits, this simple basic AV should be perfectly fine. For most, I suggest something a little more thorough.
AVG Anti-Virus Free
Good ole' AVG has providing Free Anti-Virus software since the 90's. And up until last month, it was I used by default on ALL of my computers, as well as many of my customers. It is really great protection, and in my opinion, one of the best out there in that regard. To top it off, it doesn't slow your computer down nearly as much as Norton or McAfee. Sounds like a winner, right? Well, there are some reasons I switched.
AVG has had a totally free version of their software for decades! But at what price? Years ago, it was truly free! But now, they've succumb to some annoying practices that got me fed up enough to switch. What kind of annoying practices? Primarily, adware.
AVG started down the adware path fairly innocently. It started with a banner within their main interface that could be permanently hidden. This was in the 2010-2012 era. Then they made it so it couldn't be hidden. Still not a big deal, it was only in their own interface. Then it got worse. Much worse. Nagging notifications began poping up in the bottom right of your screen with all kind of information. Now it always told you about it's updates and scan results. But this was different. 1 to 4 times a day, they'll advertise their latest discounts off the paid versions. Then they'll' advertise their tuneup software. They'll remind you about integrating AVG into your browser, which if you don't hit the tiny little decline, changes your homepage, tab start pages, default search page, etc. But the final straw was when the popup notifications began minimizing or showing on top of my full screen apps. This included watching shows on my Home Theater Computer and gaming on my main PC. To top it off, the message would often get stuck on or crash they game I was playing.
I researched ways to prevent this behavior, but none of the fixes work. So it's gone. Enough is enough. This issue is actually what inspired me to write this article. AVG has served me well since 2003. I've helped them sell their paid products while at Office Depot, and many of my NCS customers have bought it over the years. But now, even the paying customers get advertised to and annoyed. To top it off, their driver scanner and tuneup programs aren't that great. Their default search engine is yahoo based. Give me my Google back!
So should YOU use it? Well, that's up to you. I trust AVG's level of protection quite a bit. Over the years, I've seen computers that had AVG maintained and updated stay pretty clean. But if you didn't get the program updates manually every year, you'd get behind and loose the top level protection. People were often tricked into updating to the trial instead of keeping the free version. But despite the annoyances, the core protection is still really good. So if you can overlook these annoyances, AVG may be worth a try! Here's to hoping they get better!
Avira Anti-Virus Free
While I know many of my customers have used Avira in the past, I've only been using it myself since last month. So far, I really like it!
Avira has quite a few endearing features. First of all, it is extremely fast rivaling Windows Defender in terms of fewest slowdowns. Even my computer's bootup time was noticeably faster than with AVG, though coming out of sleep seems a bit slower. Like AVG, updates happen quietly in the background, but unlike AVG, Avira is pretty quiet in general. I get an occasional notification giving me a bit of info about Avira, but it sits quietly in the background until I am ready to look at it, as opposed to jumping in front of what I'm doing. It's a good balance, and I hope it stays that way!
The level of protection seems good so far. I haven't yet intentionally given it a reason to protect me, but no strange infection or issues have occurred on any of the systems I've installed it on thus far. In the past, I've seen Avira computers stay quite clean, and few users complained about it. Several Avira users even resisted my AVG recommendations back then!
Avast and Panda Free
Avast and Panda are also highly recommended free anti-virus options. However, I only have experience with these on other people's computers since I myself have not used either.
Based on what I've read about both online from both users and testers, Avast and Panda are both great alternative free anti-virus options. If Avira lets me down in anyways, these will be the first I will try. I've also seen both stay relatively clean on my customer's computers. Though honestly, Avira and AVG both left a better impression over the years in terms of protection. That's one of the main reasons Avira was my go to after AVG. Many independent testers highly recommend either Panda or Avast, so I felt it important to include them.
What to Choose?
We've gone through 5 various free options to try. So what next? Well, I recommend trying one or more of the free ones to see what you like best. However, DO NOT INSTALL MORE THAN ONE ANTI-VIRUS ON YOUR COMPUTER AT THE SAME TIME!!! Do so, and you are asking for trouble. If you do and mess up your computer, give me a call!
Another option is to try trials of the paid anti-viruses. Many of them have features the free ones don't. These free options also offer trials of their paid versions so you can try them as well.
But if you want the short answer from me, Jamie, I will say Avira. At least that's what I will say as of April 2016. Take that at face value!
Being open to change is an important part of computer usage, and is especially important in the computer service industry. I will keep an ever vigilant eye on changes in this market, and will post updated versions of this guide based on these changes!