Best free personal anti-virus software


If you run Vista or Windows 7 you now have a new free anti-virus option called Microsoft Security Essentials (or MSE). When I first reviewed this product (before MS officially launched it) it was going to be a paid subscription option. Since there were free options available, I decided to ignore MSE and review only totally free options. Last summer I set up a new computer for my father-in-law running Windows 7 and when it came time to delete the 60day trial of Norton and choose a free anti-virus product for him I remembered MSE. In recent updates, PandaCloud has begun showing popup nagware screens urging users to update to the “Pro” (literally – “Pay” version). So I was very happy to find that MSE is now available as a totally free add on for all licensed Vista and Win7 users.


The following article now applies to WinXP machines only (please see update above for the best choice for Vista / Win7) 

—— original article published in Dec, 2009 ——


Anti-Virus Products – Fear and Bloat
Virus software is sold based on fear. For most users it is the fear of the unknown – because they hear the buzzwords like “worm”, “trojan”, “hacker”, “rootkit”, and don’t really have any technical understanding of what these dangers actually refer to. Virus companies always tend to take advantage of this fact by adding more and more unnecessary features instead of focusing on the basic core feature set which is really all that most users need – anti-virus. So as product lines mature, the product usually goes from “virus protection” to “firewall”, “link scanner”, “e-mail scanner”, “malware”, and even into meaningless items like “shields”, “innoculation”, “cleaner”, and so on.
My History with Anti-Virus (skip this if you are not into geeky details)
Even back in the days when Microsoft was making the radical switch from (16-bit) Windows 3.1 to (32-bit) Windows 95 I felt that virus companies were adding too much bloat. Years ago, I switched from using McAfee’s anti-virus to Norton’s anti virus product. Norton began to evolve its product line to include products like “Total Internet Security Suite.” Well, who wouldn’t want total safety, right? The problem was, these companies started focusing more and more on feature bloat and less and less on efficient use of system resources like memory and cpu. So eventually the virus “suite” in my computer was using just as much processor time and memory as my office productivity suite and slowing my computer down to a crawl. I stuck with Norton Anti-Virus for several years – always using the basic package and not installing the huge bloated versions. ( I also looked at ClamAV for my servers because I was administrating a couple of email servers and I realized early that the best way to deal with email virii was on the server *before* the email ever got to a Windows client. Now I am a big fan of GMail for email anti-virus – let them do the work. Much better!)

 About this same time, a few years back now, I discovered Grisoft free AVG. Not only was it apparently built to use modest system resources, it also consistently scored very well on major comparisons of virus software. But the amazing thing was that it was free for personal use!
AVG is still a good choice for Windows users who want a good, free anti-virus software. But there are a couple of negatives that have creeped in over time that have finally caused me to abandon AVG. Firstly, about once a year AVG does a major version upgrade and cuts support for the previous version – forcing the user to upgrade to the new version. This is not such a bad thing in itself because the product is free anyway, right? Theoretically it is even good because the product has good suport and all resources are being devoted to the latest and greatest – no need to try to continue legacy support on old versions. The problem is that everytime they make users upgrade, they shuffle their website and hide the free version very deeply. So I recommend AVG Free to all my friends (believe me, a *lot* of people ask me which virus software they should use) and then my friends go to the AVG site and see the paid version only. Some of them grumble and just pay the fee (which, like most anti-virus products these days is an annual fee) and some of them come back to me and complain because they can’t find it. I guess it is not as bad as products that nag or show constant ads but it is a little irritating that they have to “trick” users into paying like this. Speaking of ads, they have also started showing ads on the product in the last couple of versions. Again this, by itself, is not enough to make me switch if the product is good enough. But the final straw is that I am starting to sense the same bloat in AVG’s product that I saw happen in Norton’s. The newest version (9.0) seemed a bit heavier, and there are now many other options – toolbars, rootkit protection, link scanners, business versions, etc etc etc.

The Current State of Affairs – My Choice For Best Free Anti-Virus Software! (As of December, 2009)
A few months ago I began watching a free anti-virus contender called PandaCloud AntiVirus. The philosophy is right – minimal system resources – and there is a new technology in this product which finally feels like its time has come – Cloud Computing. PandaCloud installs a minimal client app but the virus definitions and most of the processing is done in the “cloud” (another way of saying on their servers). So your personal computer doesn’t have to use so many resources. I like that! Also, I watched this year as PandaCloud beat AVG in a couple of big computer magazine’s test results. These test ranked products based on how well they detect viruses (which is why I use an anti-virus product!) I installed PandaCloud on one computer to try it out about a month ago and within a couple of weeks I had removed AVG and installed PandaCloud on every one of my personal computers at home and at church. I like it! I ran a few test virii at it and they were all easily handled. It is simple, lightweight and unobtrusive. If the computer magazines can be believed it is also better at detecting viruses than any other free anti-virus available and just as good as the most expensive commercial products. PandaCloud is supposed to release a major upgrade in the next month or two. If they show that they can handle upgrades better than AVG I am definitely going to be recommending this product to all my friends and churches that I work with in 2010.