Jim Fisher

I have long been an advocate for “free” instead of paid-for antivirus programs for my retail clients. I simply don’t see the benefit of paying $35 to $99 per year for products that are only marginally better than the free stuff. But as a skeptic, I’m obligated to challenge my own opinions on stuff from time to time and I haven’t looked into this claim in a few years. So am I still correct in claiming that the free stuff is just as good? Let’s see!

Please keep in mind that I’m specifically speaking of home computer users. Corporate and medical clients with multiple computers have different needs that aren’t addressed by the free stuff. It may even be an infringement of copyright laws to use free programs in a business environment.

I researched quite a few reputable sources to get a general sense of the effectiveness of free programs. Most of the major antivirus programs have a free version as well as a paid version. The free versions generally offer the same “basic” antivirus protection as their paid-for counterparts. The paid versions often come with options such as technical support, system optimizers (that are generally worthless), data backup (a good idea, but you can do this yourself), email filtering, parental controls, and identity theft protection. If you find value in any of those, please give them your money. But more advanced users often find those things useless.

The paid-for stuff will often slow your computer down more than the basic free stuff. Many of my clients are using decade-old computers running huge antivirus programs designed for newer systems then complain about their computer being slow. The free programs generally don’t bog down a computer as much.

For those who own Apple computers: there is no need for antivirus on a Mac. I’ve been fixing Macs for 26 years and have never seen a virus on one.

Before I get into specific recommendations, I know some of you do some dumb things on the internet or barely know how to turn a computer on. You know who you are! For those types, you should stick with the paid stuff. But the free stuff is fine for those of you who consider yourself at least “average” in your knowledge of computing.

Cutting to the chase, here is what I found: Generally speaking, free antivirus is “almost” as good as the paid-for stuff. The difference in overall protection, on average, seems to be about 5% or less. The free programs I recommend are #1: Microsoft Defender that comes built-in to Windows 10 and is a separate download for Windows 7. #2: AVG Free, #3: Kaspersky Security Cloud. Those aren’t necessarily in order.

Couple these antivirus programs with a free malware scanner such as Malwarebytes Antimalware and you can rest pretty comfortable in your decision to hold on to your money.

Jim Fisher owns Excel Computer Services in Florence. Reach him at www.ExcelAL.com