Free Computer Anti-Virus programs

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September 13, 2009

By Chris Guld, Have you heard that using Free anti-Virus programs is not as good as using the ones you pay for? We don’t think that’s true. But, we’ve heard that opinion tossed around enough that we want to give you our opinion.

There are several Free anti-virus programs that we think suit most people’s needs just fine. They are:

  1. AVG free
  2. Avira Antivir
  3. Avast

AVG was a hands-down winner
A couple years ago – AVG free 7.5 was acknowledged by all the geeks we knew as the best antivirus software for personal use. We never heard any stories of people who had problems with AVG. It made our lives very easy! We could recommend AVG and move on to the next topic.

Then AVG came out with version 8. It was still an excellent product, but it added more features and thus became a little cumbersome. Some people had problems installing it. I was one of them. So, I switched to Avira. Avira worked just fine, it didn’t have all those extra features, but it popped up way too many screens trying to get me to upgrade to the paid version (that does have the extra features.) You can’t blame them, but it definitely was annoying.

What we use now
Jim is always reading and researching computer products and he liked the reviews of Vipre which is not free, but at $39/yr for 2 PCs (or $49 for any number of household computers), is certainly reasonable. That is what we are using now.

Does Norton slow your computer down?
Lots of people reported that their computers ran much faster when they removed the popular Norton or McAfee pay-for software. But that was also a couple years ago – those products have improved substantially now.

It’s not so clear these days what is best for you, but don’t let anyone tell you that the pay-for products are better by definition. I overheard one geek informing a group that Free Antivirus programs were inferior because they update their virus definitions less frequently. Although that may be true, here’s what ‘less frequently’ means: most free anti-virus software updates *only* once daily!

To Pay or not to Pay
So, why does anyone pay? For one thing, most free version software is for personal use. If you’re a business, you need to buy the business licensed version. The other main feature included in pay-for software is support. If something goes wrong, you have no one to call for help with the free versions.

For more in depth discussion and examples of specific software, see this article by Computer World: Can you Trust Free Anti-Virus Software? If you need to download an Anti-Virus program, we recommend When you download from there, you can trust that you’re not getting any junk along with the requested program. They list both free and pay-for software … read the reviews.

Keeping your computer safe
You need an anti-virus program, but that’s not all. You need to keep Windows up-to-date, and you also need anti-spyware. All this can be done automatically once you have the right software installed. Check your Security Center to see what is in place for your computer. Probably most important to keeping your computer safe is knowledge. Knowing what to click on, what not to click on and what to delete. Here are some videos to help:

You can also download our seminar handout for ‘Practice Safe Computing.’

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  9. S.C. Okie

    Used to use NORTON’s A/V for quite a few years. Took computer 5-10 minutes to start up. Finally got sick and tired of that garbage… Started using AVG and have NOT—NOT had any problems with it. Like it and doesn’t slow down my computer at all! 🙂 Something that I can tell people that I like and truly mean it. Just my 2 cents worth! 🙂

    P.S. Norton’s may be okay for some, but paying $60.00+++++ a year gets very, very expensive after a few years!

  10. bruce

    One more thing: if you’re normally the admin on your machine and you browse the internet as an administrator you’re opening yourself up for more risk. Google “dropmyrights” for an easy fix to that problem.

  11. bruce

    I agree with those who say “DO NOT” click to do anything on one of those rogue software popups. I did that last week one day with a pos called “total security” and it shut me down after about an hour. It locked out control panel and task manager (windows xp) access then left me with a blue screen with text on it saying how badly I needed their $50 solution. And this was at work supposedly behind a firewall. Fortunately, I was able to recover in safe mode and delete the offending malware but only because I managed to find and print enough info about it before it shut me down. I don’t know but the best thing I could have done was probably restart the system immediately upon seeing the first popup as suggested but I had never seen one this insidious. Very aggravating. It makes you want to reach out and “touch” someone.

  12. I use Avast on all my machines (for many years now), and have turned on many friend to it. It works well and updates/upgrades itself beautifully with no hassles. Every time you access the Internet, it announces “Virus database has been updated”. I find it unobtrusive and comforting.

    BTW, I like to remind everyone to NEVER click on any page, popup of any kind that states “YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED click here to repair, check, fix etc.” I guarantee doing that WILL put a Virus on your computer. This is called “Rouge software” and is designed to get to to”buy” the fix that you unknowingly just installed. Avast is free and made by good people. Google it and see for yourself.


  13. Hello Fred,
    RE Live Writer – no, you don’t need anything else. Live Writer is a standalone program. You can uncheck anything else that tries to come along with it if you don’t want them.

  14. Chris:
    REF: MS Live Writer –
    when I downloaded this program, a messenger service and a live call package came with it.
    Do I need either, or both of these packages to use Live Writer effectively please?
    Fred Brandeberry

  15. Tom Hargreaves

    For my clients that use an ISP that provides free anti-virus/firewall programs, I load that program for them and let it do its thing — which it tends to do without bugging the user. For myself and my other clients using either Windows XP or Vista (and beyond), I use/load AVG, Windows Defender (also free), and the built-in firewall. While there is a bit more risk to XP systems in using the Windows firewall, the combination of AVG and Windows Defender seems to be effective in preventing the kinds of infections that the XP firewall doesn’t protect against.

    On a different note, when I have had a window pop up that tells me I have some dreaded virus or some such, I have found that trying to close that window in any way takes me to the malware website. I advise my clients to not try to close anything, but to immediately shutdown (or restart) the computer, even if they have to hold down the power button or (gasp!) pull the plug to do so as this is the safest thing to do for a non-techie (you know who you are!). Just my opinion, of course.

  16. Harold,
    Something is wrong – maybe you accidentally got the free trial or something other than the free AVG. If you go to (my favorite place for downloading free software) and click on Security Software – AVG Free will be the first one on the list.

  17. Richard M. Clark

    ALL WELL AND GOOD BUT YOU SHOULD specify which systems they work on. Windowsor Apple.

    I woulc save tome in tryibg to download a program that would not work with your system.

  18. Harold

    I just downloaded AVG Free program.
    It scanned my computer and found 371 errors. It then repaired 20 of them and tells me I will need to buy their update to clean the rest of them.
    I guess I should say thanks to those of U who recommended it.

  19. I use AVG Free and haven’t had any problems. I don’t find them to be particularly pushy about getting me to buy their products. I’ve been told that it is important to be careful when choosing a download source because some of the sites are not too careful to screen the free programs. I download almost exclusively from, a source that was recommended to me and my downloads have always been safe from viruses etc.

  20. I have been using free Comodo Internet Security for a couple of years. Seems to do the job well. It includes a firewall and antivirus. I also run free Spybot for the malware.

  21. Vegasdan

    I use ThreatFire and it was recommended by my computer geek the last time I got a trojan that could not be fixed with AVG.

  22. I fix computers for a living… In my experience with the new (REALLY BAD) fake alert virus/spyware that I see infecting so many computers, it doesn’t really matter which antivirus product you use. I see machines with norton, mcafee, trend micro etc… as well as the free ones being infected. The worst infections I see are in computers where the users go to my space, facebook, etc. and use several instant messengers, download music, videos etc….

    I have been using AVG for about 4 years and recently have used avast too. I highly recommend both of these!! I am not familiar with Avira.

    Vulpine was absolutely right about not clicking on the fake alert come-ons. they want $49.95 or something like that and they ARE the infection. many of these are very hard to get rid of. There is a good product called Malware Bytes Antimalware. you can download this at It is user friendly and safe. It is a powerful spyware remover. This program can clean spyware etc.. that the normal antivirus programs don’t detect or can’t clean.

    If you get a root kit… you need to call your computer guy!

    Whichever antivirus product you use… keep it up to date.

    Good luck

  23. I have no argument with the article as it stands; the free apps mentioned should meet most peoples’ needs and also have the advantage of not being directly targeted by the spammers and malware writers who actively try to disable the big-name antivirus companies.

    On the other hand, you must be absolutely aware that if you get a pop-up window or banner ad that says something along the lines of “Your computer may be infected; download our scanner to find out,” steer clear! Not only are the majority of these ads fake, but they also try to get you to pay them to install more trojans and malware that can steal your financial identity! This doesn’t mean that all the free apps are fake, but rather that you need to do some research and get some honest reviews before you even consider clicking on such a link.

    Here’s the thing: Norton (Symantic) Antivirus and MacAfee are two of the biggest-known AV companies out there. They probably protect the largest collection of PCs in the world. This also means they are among the most expensive and the most attacked anti-malware solutions out there. Another commercial brand I have personally used is Panda Antivirus ( which served very well and prevented at least a few known attacks on my machine–but I’m not using them any more. This isn’t to say they’re not good–I just changed platforms and they don’t support my new one.

    But the gist of this article is centered around free- or low-cost solutions. AVG used to be free–in fact, they still are, but it’s very, very difficult to locate the free version any more as they try to encourage you to upgrade to their paid products that can offer better overall coverage. Since I’m using Windows Vista in a Boot Camp partition on an Apple Macintosh computer, I’m currently using AVG. What I don’t like is that they have essentially become ‘Nagware,’ almost sounding harassing in their zeal to get me to move to the paid version. I’ll grant they have a right to make money off their efforts, but if all you need is basic coverage, should you really have to pay for unwanted add-ons?

    I admit I’m not familiar with Avira or Avast, though I did install Avast on a client’s Boot Camp install and it seems to be working well. He uses Windows exclusively on that machine and so far hasn’t been affected by any of the more blatant attacks, though he does have a habit of clicking on things he shouldn’t. I still have to run manual scans to clean out spyware that sneaks in through emails from his friends and certain web pages he visits (no, not ‘those,’ but bad enough in their own way.)

    On a side note, if any of you are using an Apple computer with OS X, well, congratulations on choosing what I consider to be an easier machine to use as well as less concern about malware. However, this doesn’t mean you are immune. Just because there are so few exploits in the wild doesn’t mean the bad guys aren’t trying–only that they aren’t succeeding all that well–yet. Yes, Norton and McAfee have Mac versions too, and I feel they have the same drawbacks as the Windows versions. On the other hand, a relatively-unknown solution is Intego (who also has a Windows product) is reasonably well-priced and there is another one, ClamAV for Mac which, for now, is totally free.

    Don’t let yourself get caught without protection, no matter what platform you run.

  24. Thomas W. Pittman

    i have used Avast for many years– because of two reasons–it’s free & it works–
    That’s All
    Thank You

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