The most important thing to know about free anti-virus software is that it really is free. The second most important thing to know about free anti-virus software is that sometimes you get what you pay for.
The software is free, and it is easy to find and download. Just typing in free anti-virus software into a search engine will result in tons of links to free software. By doing just a little bit of research, you will discover that there are three “big names” in the free anti-virus software world. You will do yourself a favor by sticking to one of the big names. These names are AntiVir, AVAST, and AVG.
These three companies offer trimmed down versions of their commercially available software, for free. The reason that it is a good idea to stick to these companies is because they are reputable. You need to be careful about who you give permission to download programs onto your computer. There is no guarantee that when you click “download” from an unknown website that what you are getting is anti-virus protection. You might just as easily be downloading spyware or even a virus.
Even if you do stick with a reputable company, do not think that your computer is fully protected by free anti-virus software. The products are certified to be 100% effective at detecting in-the-wild viruses. The problem is that in-the-wild viruses are a small proportion of the viruses that might attack your computer. The truth is that even if the programs were 100% effective at detecting all viruses (and none of them are, the best program only detects 92% of zoo viruses) you still aren’t protected against most of the malware out there.
As far as adware and spyware goes, none of the anti-virus programs are much good at all. AVAST programs can pick out adware about 33% of the time, and that is the best rating from any of the free programs. To be fair, the free anti-virus programs don’t claim to be able to detect adware or spyware. Still, if you think you will be protected against these things, think again.
Another thing to know about free anti-virus software is that there are few, if any, support options. AVAST does offer a for-charge help line for its free software but the other two companies don’t offer any call center options at all. AVG does take email questions, but if you have ever tried to trouble shoot via email you will have discovered that email help is barely better than no help at all. If you run into problems using your free software you might turn to the Internet to see if you can find some help; you also might want to try to download another program if the program you have doesn’t seem to be able to remove a virus.
You should also consider update options when selecting a free program. When you pay for a program, automatic updates come in all of the time as the software company tries to stay ahead of the virus makers. Some of the free programs have different ways of offering updates. Find out from the manufacturer’s website what sort of update options you have for your free anti-virus software.
On the positive side, the programs for free anti-virus software are very small. You will be able to download a program onto any computer, even a very old computer because the footprint is negligible. The AVG is the smallest and weighs in at only 30Mb. The program is also very easy to download and you can do so with a click or two from the website.